by Sen. Darrel J. Aubertine
We’ve all heard a lot about the financial trouble our state is in and the cuts that we in the Legislature have been asked to make. The governor has outlined his ideas to close our projected budget shortfall and called us back to Albany to deal with our state’s troubles.
The truth is that we have to make cuts. However, what we cannot do is compound the situation. I’m writing this knowing that I am going to Albany on Tuesday and you will probably read this after our session has concluded, but I think it’s important that you know my thoughts going into the week, before the hard decisions are made. As your representative, I am going to our state capitol with the message you’ve conveyed to me throughout the districtÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Âmake the cuts you can, without affecting vital services or raising our taxes.
It’s a tough balance, but I believe it can be done.
We’ve talked a great deal about property taxes over the last few months and I’ve advocated for a comprehensive approach to reining in our property tax bills through a property tax cap on school district levies, a cap on property tax bills through a circuit breaker, mandate relief and cooperation among school districts. Members of both parties have said they support these recommendations from the state Commission on Property Tax Relief’s June report. In combination, this proposal can bring our property tax bills down, while still providing our school districts the funding and freedom required to invest in our children’s education.
The governor has pushed for a property tax cap in this session and I supported the Senate version even after amendments were shot down because we need to start the real negotiations between lawmakers and the executive branch immediately. Like the projected shortfall, for many people, especially those on fixed incomes, we’ve reached a crisis. However, after making his push for a cap, the governor has also recommended a $250 million cut in aid to municipalities as one way to help close the projected budget shortfall.
Targeting relief for school taxes, only to have municipal property tax bills grow accomplishes little. It is not sound policy to have the state pass its troubles down to smaller municipalities. Our elected representatives at the village, town, city and county levels have been asked to find ways to cooperate or consolidate in the interest of the taxpayer. Certainly, the state of our economy should be prompting a hard look at these local budgets as well. However, cutting aid to these municipalities may force these governments to raise property taxes, shifting the state’s financial woes onto our local communities.
Whatever cuts we make have to be carefully targeted. There is always room for improvement in any organization, especially government. The looming shortfalls have prompted many of us to look deeply into how are state operates and identify inefficiencies. We must all be honest with ourselves and each other as taxpayers and strive to make our government more efficient.
I’m confident we can reduce our state’s spending without hurting our education system, local governments, our access to quality affordable healthcare, and vital services. No agency, organization or authority in state government is without some room for improvement. All of usÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Âfrom lawmakers, the governor and the comptroller to department heads and the leaders of state-funded agenciesÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Âhave to play a vital role in identifying what cuts can be made. We have to roll up our sleeves and get to work.