Accepting the Gift

Posted by & filed under Uncategorized.

The Maggie Brooks budget solution has just a hint of Joel Giambra and Erie County, doesn’t it?

That sales tax hike comes as a last resort, said Brooks during her Thursday announcement. It’s the only way to cover up the $102 million county budget gap, she said.

So you must recall that in late 2004, Erie County Executive Joel Giambra proposed a penny hike in the sales tax as a way to close up Erie County’s budget hole. (This space in its former home called it "The Ghost of Erie County"). That initial sales tax increase was rejected. But in January 2006, Erie County leaders and the state finally bought into a 3/4 quarters of a penny hike. That’s what Brooks proposes to add on to Monroe County’s sales tax.

Of course, timing is everything.

When Giambra made his call, he came armed with a doomsday budget scenario – give me a sales tax hike or you get massive cuts. They call it the red-green budget debate. This sparked quite a backlash.

And he didn’t have "the gift."

That’s what Brooks called the Albany-created swap known as the sales tax intercept. The program where counties can give away some of their sales tax money in exchange for giving away the requirement to pay into Medicaid. She hardly sounded like a kid at Christmas when this idea for accepting the trade was first announced n March, remember?. But, coupled with the sales tax hike that will make the city, the towns, villages and school districts whole, the intercept is a box wrapped with a bow.

No such present for Giambra back then. Just loads of criticism.

Much of that criticism centered around the fact that when Giambra first came into office, the Erie County Executive slashed property taxes by some 30 percent.

But here’s an interesting thing. Monroe County also cut property taxes in the mid to late 1990s and into the early years of 2000. At least if you take it from the view that County Executive Brooks now holds.

Brooks’ predecessor often said he froze the property tax. But Jack Doyle meant the total amount of property taxes collected. Brooks has changed that definition. She, too, says she holds the line on taxes. But she means the property tax rate. This may sound esoteric. But it’s important.

Using the Brooks method of viewing the property tax, Doyle actually cut taxes by roughly 8 percent from the time he took over to the time he left. Now that reduction isn’t the same size as Giambra’s. But it’s interesting how a definition of how to measure property tax growth can, well, alleviate criticism.

I mean, imagine if Democrats started going after Brooks and Doyle for cutting property taxes and digging some of that fiscal hole themselves.

And it is interesting to note the Democratic proposal to combat the shortfall. The centerpiece is charging back use of the sheriff’s road patrol to towns that use it. Some municipalities have their own police department and so don’t use the sheriff patrols. But they pay for the service.

But that’s a painful approach. Town budgets would surely suffer. Just as the sales tax intercept proposal alone would have been painful to municipalities who share in the tax proceeds.

Hiking that sales tax, however, appears to be a pain reliever. At least for Brooks and her predicament.

Giambra laid out the pain relieving formula of sales tax hikes back in 2004 when he gave his budget choices… the tax hike or the doomsday budget. 

Perhaps when it comes to these situations, it’s all in the timing and the presentation, I suppose.

But something tells me we’re still in for the same kind of battle Erie County residents saw a few years ago.