Following up on my post below, just wanted to point out this Journal News article about the debate over the 2010 Westchester budget. Can the budget be fixed with consolidation and greater efficiencies? Are there too many services being offered to county residents? Nowhere is it mentioned that the budget gap is a result of rising mandates and lower tax revenue — not the result of any political philosophy.
It’s unfortunate when budgets are due immediately after Election Day. When incumbents win, it can be an excuse for them to throw in items that got no attention during the campaign (like raises for themselves) hoping that voters will have forgotten their trick by the time their next campaign rolls around. And when incumbents lose, they have to decide whether to continue their own policies or the set of campaign promises that voters preferred.
Andy Spano in Westchester faces this latter choice. He pays lip service to the voters’ choice of his opponent, but then puts forth a budget that — you get the feeling — wouldn’t have been any different if he’d won himself a fourth term last month, with a tax hike of just under 5%.
I think Spano emphasizes the right points in his press conference below, noting that combining drops in sales tax, mortgage tax, and other income with increases in mandated expenses brings the county budget $120 million in the hole without making any cuts in discretionary spending. That’s the stuff that the County Executive has no control over. Covering that gap would necessitate a 24% tax increase (based on his rough math of $5 million for every point increase). So 5% is pretty good, isn’t it?
But in defeat the whole presentation looks like one big I-told-you-so, Spano still knows better than the upstart Astorino or those darn voters. It would be better if the next budget were set by the winner of the election. I thought that’s what elections were for.
Here’s a memo I wrote earlier this year about the NY State VAN aka VoteBuilder, frustrated that I was not able to recommend this voter file to my clients in Westchester. I’m still trying to get something done about this, because this great resource is still not practically available to down-ticket candidates.
M E M O
From: Jeremy Sherber
Re: NYS VoteBuilder and Down-Ticket Candidate Access
1. The Situation
- The NYS Democratic Committee now has a tremendous tool in its arsenal: VoteBuilder, a national voter file supported by the DNC and leased to state parties for use on Democratic campaigns throughout the country.
- The NYS Democratic Committee has the resources to support the system only for their top campaign priorities. In 2008, that meant US Congress, State Senate, and some State Assembly campaigns.
- Down-ticket Democratic candidates are largely not aware of VoteBuilder, and not well supported if they want to use the system.
2. What Makes Sense
- The NYS Democratic Committee’s priorities are well-placed: hold the State Senate, and build our Congressional caucus. With the Governor’s race in 2010, there is already plenty of work for the Committee’s staff.
3. What Does NOT Make Sense
- Down-ticket candidates have little or no access to professional voter file management. VoteBuilder would give Democrats a tremendous advantage over their opponents at the local level.
- Local candidates and campaigns are in a better position to add specific, personal data to voters’ records, making VoteBuilder even more powerful for up-ticket campaigns.
- Essentially, a tool with broad potential for winning campaigns and building the party is being used too narrowly.
- Outsource VoteBuilder advocacy and support for all down-ticket campaigns to database administrators.
- Freelance database administrators would be responsible for signing up candidates and supporting them through the campaign.
- The NYS Democratic Committee would retain the prerogative to authorize candidates for access and set subscription fees.
- Commission-based payment means the NYS Democratic Committee receives percentage of each subscription without any additional strain on the staff.
VoteBuilder is an extraordinary tool. The more Democrats use it, the more Democrats will win elections. The NYS Democratic Committee, understandably, does not have the human resources to support local candidates. Outsourcing VoteBuilder support to database professionals would maximize VoteBuilder’s utility; create a new stream of revenue for the Committee without taxing human resources; and create opportunities for down-ticket Democrats.
When it comes to taxes, local officials are really screwed. They suffer from a decades-long national tax-cutting fervor (amplified whenever there’s a Democrat in the White House) that has nothing to do with the challenges of running a municipality. Your local town or city doesn’t have any fat in its budget, just the salaries of police and firefighters. Even those basics are probably being subsidized by state or federal aid, and when the economy turns sour that aid shuts off — though salaries don’t stop being paid. Worse yet, city councils don’t have the luxury of going into debt the way the federal government does. Finally, local officials can’t alter the political landscape from such a small soapbox, so all their excuses for another tax increase sound petty and lame.
Then they go and do themselves no favors by explaining the situation so poorly. Below is a presentation that the City Manager of New Rochelle, NY made just this week to the City Council justifying his request for a property tax increase of 8.9%. From an information design point of view, it’s a total mess. Every chart is plotted in a different way on a different scale; readers are not guided along in any way to reach the conclusion that the tax increase is necessary. If anything, if I were voter in New Rochelle, this bungle of numbers and tables would convince me that either (a) my City Manager is deliberately trying to confuse me or (b) he’s too disorganized to run my city.