The Monroe County Legislature's Republican majority has done some callous things in the past, but it's outdone itself with the 2017 county budget.
As the Lej moved toward a vote on the $1.2 billion proposal last night, Democratic Minority Leader Cynthia Kaleh submitted an amendment to boost county funding for child care subsidies by $900,000. Local children's advocates have asked the county to boost the subsidies, which help low-income parents work and lift their families out of poverty; this year they requested an additional $1 million.
But the GOP didn't miss a beat. Majority Leader Brian Marianetti stood up and tacked on a counter amendment that simultaneously derailed Kaleh's proposed change and forced Democrats to join in the wounding of County Clerk Adam Bello's plan for a full-time downtown DMV at City Place.
Marianetti's amendment pulled $52,000 out of the clerk's office budget and added the funding to the county's child care subsidy contribution. The money was meant to fund two additional downtown DMV clerk positions, but just for half of the year, since Bello didn't expect the office to open until the second part of 2017.
The amendment was a brilliant piece of bare-knuckle political strategy, but it was a supremely shitty thing to do. Marianetti dangled a pittance in front of the Democrats, who knew they faced an unspoken threat: support the poison amendment or risk the GOP painting them as anti-children.
The GOP wasn't making an honest effort to boost child care subsidies; Bello is an up-and-coming Democrat who just defeated a Republican challenger to win a four-year term. The GOP amendment was all about denying him a big win, and reopening a full-time downtown DMV would have been just that. And the party did it at the expense of everyone who lives and works in the City of Rochester — while using the county's children, to boot. Well done, Republicans. Don't you feel proud?
Marianetti's questioning earlier in the evening proved as much. He methodically poked holes in Bello's plan, subjecting it to the sort of scrutiny that GOP legislators never give to administration proposals. He did draw out some details that need to be addressed, but they were mainly space and real estate issues that could probably be resolved if the county and clerk's office administrations worked together.
"I'm certainly not taking a position that we should or should not move forward with a downtown DMV," Marianetti said at one point in the debate.
Ultimately, all of the Dems except John Lightfoot and James Sheppard voted for the Marianetti amendment, though the ones who spoke made it clear they'd been bullied into it.
"This is not in good faith," Kaleh said.
"I don't have words for this," said Legislator Vincent Felder. "This is not how the Legislature is supposed to operate."
"My constituents have been robbed," said Legislator Ernest Flagler-Mitchell.
On Monday, all three of those legislators and Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren stood next to Bello as he announced plans for a full-time downtown DMV. Bello and Warren laid out a case for the service that revolved partly around the city core's resurgence and partly around equity. The mobile unit that serves the city has shorter hours than the Henrietta, Greece, and Irondequoit branches and it can't conduct certain complicated transactions.
Two days out of the week, the mobile unit sets up at the county parks offices in Highland Park. That location isn't accessible to transit or to people with disabilities. It also sees far fewer customers than the City Place location, Bello said.
Deputy County Clerk Jeff McCann told legislators that the Marianetti amendment would effectively stall the DMV plan, but the office remains committed to it. McCann, a former Republican legislator himself, also voiced frustration with the situation.
"I'm shocked that this is being done tonight," McCann said.