Tuesday, December 4, 2012


Rochester, N.Y. -- If I hear one more local politician cry about so-called “mandates,” I’m gonna scream. Let’s get something straight here. New York State government exists for the benefit of all its residents, not just those who are insulated from any financial harm. 

New York State is committed to preserving and improving quality public services and creates constitutional and legislative acts to make sure local governments meet the required minimum standards for delivering those services. These so-called spending “mandates” were created for a reason and support a culture of transparency, accountability, and continuous improvement.

The people of New York created these standards to provide opportunity, tax fairness and to protect all our citizens when it comes to public safety, consumer protections, economic development, healthcare, and education just to name a few.

New York State constitutional and legislative law should not be turned on its head because a few County Executives think they need more flexibility to spend our money the way they see fit. It’s the will of the people and of the state, and last time I checked we have a democracy in place to address such grievances.

And, what disturbs me most about this conversation is the semantics behind calling spending you personally do not agree with as an “unfunded mandate.” The fact is, most state spending is appropriated in a responsible manner, but don’t tell that to the conservative wing of the Republican Party.

The so called “mandated” programs we are referring to include Medicaid, child care subsidies and emergency public assistance for the unemployed, elderly and poor. Sure, we can do better when it comes to efficiencies and execution.  And when it comes to the most visible “complainers” of social safety net programs for the elderly, poor and unfortunate, Monroe County Executive Maggie Brooks and Chautauqua County Executive Greg Edwards are tops on that list.

Maggie Brooks is a self-described conservative and anti-choice politician who is endorsed by the Conservative Party who’s National Affairs Platform strongly supports “shrinking the size of government” and de-funding Planned Parenthood. Brooks called attempts to restrict access to abortion a battle that is “moving in the right direction.” When asked by a reporter about her views on the federal mandate for health insurance coverage of contraceptives, Brooks refused to give a full answer. [Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, 3/21/12]

Brooks has been repeatedly called out by civil rights advocates and women leaders in Monroe County for pushing policies that are anti-poor, anti-equality and anti-choice. Maggie Brooks also had no problem trying to take money away from our schools with her FAIR plan, unsuccessfully I might add. She also defunded the Center For Disability Rights as a political payback, will not offer poor indigent families a fair subsidy so they can bury their loved ones with dignity, and refuses to pony up for the lead paint prevention program that keeps our Monroe County children safe.

Do you see a pattern here? Yes—these are all programs that help the less fortunate. And, consequently, County budgets reveal an ideological framework. These essential, extremely vital programs and services often determine whether or not people will live or die. But alas—those affected by these policies probably don’t vote Conservative or Republican, do they?

Slick talking points meant to mislead tax payers

When Maggie Brooks speaks of “we spend too much” and mentions “big government,” don’t be fooled or mislead by these foolish talking points. What she is really talking about is who will benefit from our government, and I can tell you first hand that if you are struggling to make ends meet her idea of governing will not work for you.

And when her administration claims she’s balanced another budget and kept the tax rate flat, you should know that statement is not completely true. The fact is, tax levies have risen 7 times in 7 years and her mastermind efforts to funnel our tax dollars into these shady corporations and authorities has shaken the very foundation and financial future of our collective wealth.

The Brooks administration can be justifiably cited for raising charges and fees for various county services, including subsidies to Monroe Community College and the Board of Elections. How much a property owners pays for these services or “chargebacks,” as they are known is determined by their assessed property value. These charges are really a “hidden tax,” and they are separate from the property tax rate. 

As a recent example, Brooks either didn't know about or mislead tax payers about a hidden “Snow Tax” in this year’s one billion dollar budget. Why does the Brooks administration have such a hard time being honest with Monroe County residents?

Also, in this year’s budget, the Brooks administration are estimating that sales tax collections (total money collected from the 4% tax) will increase to $21.3 million or 4.88% above the anticipated 2012 actual collections. Since 1994, annual growth in sales tax collections has averaged only 2.77%. To be estimating a 4.88% increase in actual collections in one year is a very ambitious number and will require a significant increase in retail sales. One could argue that they have “stretched” this estimate to enable them to say they have balanced this budget.

So, the next time you hear Maggie Brooks or Greg Edwards complain about “mandates,” please understand that their strategy has always been to gain access to more of your tax dollars to execute a well-defined personal and political agenda. If this would ever happen, expect the disabled, elderly, poor and middle class to get pummeled while at the same time, financial benefits, hefty contracts and golden opportunities will be offered to their donors and inner circle. Both Brooks and Edwards will also continue their efforts to privatize your public services and strong arm public employee unions whenever they feel it is necessary.

Honestly, I sincerely believe that deep down inside Ms. Brooks is a very compassionate person. However, it doesn't show in her budget priorities or policy choices. And, moreover, she has no doubt made a political calculation that in order for her to keep her leverage in office, and to continue to be a power broker in Republican and Conservative politics, some of our disenfranchised local residents will have to end up on the wrong side of the budget ledger and be officially written off by County government. This is what budgets reveal. This is political ideology at work.

-Ove Overmyer
This commentary does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of CSEA as an organization.

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