Wednesday, December 11, 2013

County budget passes, but new political battle emerges

Posted By on Wed, Dec 11, 2013 at 10:33 AM

Monroe County Executive Maggie Brooks' 2014 budget proposal passed last night with a party-line vote. The 19 Republicans voted in favor, while all 10 Democrats voted against. 

The final budget is unchanged from Brooks' initial proposal, with one significant exception. Prior to the meeting, Republicans announced that they would eliminate a proposed $37,000 pay increase for Sheriff Patrick O'Flynn. O'Flynn included the raise for himself in his department's budget, which is part of the county's overall budget. 

The big salary bump was blasted by many members of the public, especially since the budget cuts day care subsidies for low-income families. The juxtaposition was galling. 

"It's nice to know that you will bow to public pressure," Democratic Legislator Michael Patterson said to the GOP prior to the budget vote. 

A handful of budget amendments proposed by the Democrats failed, though, including a measure that would have restored a $1.3 million cut in county funding for the day care subsidies. A Democratic amendment that would have implemented some local development corporation reforms was ruled out of order by Legislature President Jeff Adair.

But it was what happened immediately after the budget vote that, while technical and wonky, was the most significant part of the meeting. Democrats voted against legislation to authorize borrowing for the county's 2014 capital projects, including another $44 million for Monroe Community College's new downtown campus. The Dems' "no" votes weren't based on objections to projects. Instead, the caucus was using the little leverage it has to push for a Legislature committee to take over the county's internal local development corporation probe.
Democratic Minority Leader Carrie Andrews tried to explain why the Dems were voting against the measure, but Adair cut her off a few times. She said that for the past five months, Democrats have tried to get information about the review, but have "had absolutely no luck getting anything." 

Democrat Justin Wilcox has submitted legislation to turn the probe over to a Legislature committee — which will be considered next month, Andrews said. Dems voted against the borrowing measure to ensure that the legislation gets serious consideration, she said. 

Shortly after the meeting, Democrats sent out a press release to explain their position. It included this statement from Andrews:

“Everyone has a line in the sand. After years of being stifled and months of having our legitimate requests for information denied, we can no longer stand idly by while the County Executive investigates herself. As a caucus, we believe that while the criminal investigations are ongoing, the Legislature must take over the internal review. To allow otherwise would be to jeopardize the very foundation of our government and we will not let that happen.

“The idea that the people who created this environment will now be able to perform an unbiased review of their own actions is not credible. It’s time for the legislature to step in and exercise its oversight responsibilities.”

Prior to the vote, Majority Leader Steve Tucciarello asked Democrats to support the borrowing measure. Voting against it would kill funding for the MCC downtown campus, he said, and would also kill local jobs.

Just before the Democrats sent out their statement, Brooks sent out one of her own, which included this quote:

“For more than a decade, MCC has waited patiently for a new Downtown campus fitting of the College's world-class reputation, yet in one single night ten Legislators threatened to derail the project by placing partisanship before the people they serve. Our community now faces the very real possibility that the downtown campus will be delayed, or worse, because these 10 members have decided to hold MCC students, faculty, and staff hostage for their own political gain. Worse, hundreds of local jobs and millions of dollars in economic investment now hang in the balance.”

What happens next is unclear, but Adair cast a "no" vote of his own on the bond, which is a procedural move that'll allow him to bring it back up for a vote at a later date.

In other Legislature action, a Republican proposal to establish a child day care trust fund, which will accept public donations to cover day care subsidies, passed unanimously. Andrews introduced an amendment that would have put the money previously slated for Sheriff O'Flynn's raise into the fund, but it failed along party lines.



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