This year’s contests for election to the GreeneLand legislature have been marked by an unusual feature: On an issue of substance, a line of division exists—not a clear line, but a line—between the Republican and the Democratic candidates. This one issue is how the county government should handle coming gains, big gains, in revenue collected from sales tax payments. Democratic candidates generally support a particular scheme for managing this ‘surplus’ while the Republicans either oppose that scheme or avoid the subject.
Lines of inter-party cleavage on matters of policy, at the county level, are rare in GreeneLand. The people who are identified on the ballot as Republican and Democratic (and/or Conservative, Working Families, or
The issue is timely. With the recent arrival and rapid growth of a Home Depot branch, and with the imminent openings of a Lowes home improvement center and a giant WalMart, GreeneLand will soon generate a boom in retail sales and, consequently, in sales tax payments. Those payments will go into county government coffers. In relation to anticipated costs of current county operations, they will provide a kind of surplus. So: what should be done with the increased revenue?
One answer has found favor with current Democratic candidates for seats in the county legislature. It is that some of the windfall be passed along to town and village councils. The main author and promoter of this proposal is Forest Cotten, who is a
(1) Entitlement. Re-allocation of some sales tax revenue shall come into play when a given year’s revenue exceeds the previous year’s take by more than 5 per cent. Of any ‘surplus’ above that figure, 20 per cent remains in county coffers, with the remainder being apportioned to town and village treasuries. Thus, if county revenues from sales tax come to $10 million in Year I and rise by 10 per cent in Year II, then half of the gain ($1 million) stays in the county treasury (that’s $500,000) and so does 20% of the remainder (another $100,000). That leaves $400,000 to be allocated to municipalities. By the same token, if year III’s revenue exceeds year II’s by 10%, the new total is $12,100,000, and the gain is $1.1 million. Of that additional revenue, the county keeps half ($550,000) plus 20% of the remainder (another $110,000, and the municipalities get what’s left (80% of $550,000, or $410,000). (2) Apportionment. For deciding the respective shares of municipalities, 75 per cent would be allocated according to populations, and 25 per cent according to equalized assessment value. The towns’ shares would be calculated exclusive of their villages (in Catskill, Hunter, Cox, Athens).
RECOMMENDATION Now, we at Seeing Greene have not made up our collective mind about the merit of that STRS scheme. We do feel sure that the proposal deserves an earnest, thorough hearing by the county’s legislators. It deserves a solid hearing because it would provide the right occasion for careful thought about alternative uses of the coming windfall and about what lies ahead for the county. (In the latter respect, it is difficult to over-state the importance of the looming, unavoidable obligation to build, at immense expense, a new jail. Meeting that unavoidable budget-busting obligation in Ulster County proved to be, in short, ruinous). But a proper hearing by GreeneLand’s legislators is just what STRS has not received. Sponsors of the scheme tried to make a presentation, only to be told that they needed to get endorsements from a majority of local councils. They did so, only to be stonewalled again. Generally favored by incumbent county legislators has been a “wait and see” outlook—with no hint about what event or information awaits sighting.. Experience indicates, then, that the county legislature will give serious consideration to sharing its coming windfall with local councils only if it undergoes a change of composition. Some members need to be replaced. Which brings us to this Tuesday’s election. We are not in position to recommend candidates all over the county. There are too many issues, too many questions of character and experience. Nevertheless, we venture to voice the following suggestions: (1) Catskillians should vote for Mr Cotten. Adding him to the legislature is the single most important assurance that the STRS scheme will be studied. He is one of seven candidates for four seats. His two Democratic running mates, Ron Dombrowski and Robin Depuy, also support STRS. Voters do not need to stay with one party ‘line’ or another. (2) In Athens, candidate Andrea Smallwood has endorsed STRS, while the incumbent, Ray Brooks, has joined in the stonewalling. And Ms Smallwood is in other respects richly qualified for the office of county legislator. (3) In Cairo, with two seats to filled, voters could wisely retain one of the incumbents—veteran Bill Lawrence, who is likely to become the legislature’s chairman—while ridding themselves of the other one. By virtue of a manifest addiction to fatuous remarks, Michael Camadine seems to be well qualified for retirement. He has been “standing up for principle,” he tells the news media on behalf of his bid for re-election, without naming the principle. The notion that a big boost in sales tax revenue lies ahead, says he, is illusory; “until no one is paying real property taxes, there is no extra money.” Anyhow, the Democrats are touting sales tax revenue-sharing because they don’t have any other issues—as if his people are knee deep in issues and policies (and, surely, principles). Ah yes, those devilish GreeneLand Democrats. Do they have only two seats in the county legislature, few seats in local councils, few candidates, few members, bare cupboards, minimal co-ordination? Don’t be fooled, says this avid hallucinatory: “We have seen [here in the Greene County Democratic Party] the rise of the strong party boss, who speaks for the his party, tells them their positions, and models his organization on the successful Albany machine.”
P.S. “A tax cut is really one of the anecdotes to coming out of an economic illness.” --George W. Bush, 9/18/2000