The $34 million question

If the allocation of some $34 million in federal stimulus funding for Ulster County is anything like the annual budget process during the executive era (post-2009), the county legislature will be told where that windfall is going when the executive tells them. But maybe there’s a connection.

It would appear that legislative Chairman Dave Donaldson, in proposing the formation of a yet unnamed “task force” to receive suggestions on how to spend the boodle, is playing something of a long game. But, conspicuously absent in Donaldson’s headline-grabbing announcement in the paper of record was any mention of fellow Democrat county executive Pat Ryan. It would appear that the Freeman, in another regurgitation of a public pronouncement, didn’t even bother the man who may have the last word.

Fact is, none of the key players know exactly how much the county will be getting, how they can spend it or when the first checks will begin arriving. It would appear that Donaldson, Ryan, et. al. really don’t know what they don’t know.  Yet.

How do I, a simple scribe, know this? I asked Ulster town supervisor Jim Quigley. He said he doesn’t know anything either; the town could be getting upwards of a million dollars in stimulus grants, but at least he had the candor to admit it.

“We haven’t been given any guidelines of what we can spend it on, when it’s coming or how the process will work,” he said when asked in reference to town-level grants.  

Typical of what passes for leadership in these parts, there’s more to this trial balloon by Donaldson. A career legislator – he began his 29th year in elected office in January – Donaldson, D-Kingston believes in his bones that the branches of government are co-equal. They are not. One would think that after almost three decades in office, he’d know better.

Legislators present themselves to voters as “keepers of the purse strings” and “the policy-making branch of government.” Purse strings? Legislators routinely accept 99 percent of the budgets submitted to them by the executive, sometimes by unanimous votes. Policy, other than banning plastic bags and the like? Policy comes from the executive, typically through the budget process. Vote for the budget, vote for the policy. Andrew Cuomo is a past master of that shortcut.

By establishing a legislative task force to address the federal stimulus package, Donaldson is hoping to get a seat at the table, a toe in a door on annual budget deliberations, worth some $330 million this year.

I like his strategy, but he’s bringing a knife to a gunfight in this case. What he’ll get, this champion of so many highly-publicized lost causes, in all likelihood, will be a list of recommendations from the executive to which the legislature, in its collective wisdom, can advise and consent.

Politics being the genesis of most press releases, there is the fact that all 23 seats in a sharply-divided 12-11 Democratic-controlled legislature are on the ballot this fall and that incumbents in close races (perhaps five or six; there are seven uncontested seats) will need to show voters why they should be returned to office for another two years.

Donaldson’s “task force” gives them something to talk about other than purses and policy.

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A FORD IN THEIR FUTURE – One of the things that former Kingston historian Ed Ford often lamented was the dearth of teaching local history in our schools. Ford, who aspired to be a teacher as a young man, understood that curriculums were crowded and that it might require some additional study by teachers. Nonetheless, he believed an appreciation for (local) history began in the home, and belonged in the schools.

Here’s a thought: Why not establish an annual Edwin Millard Ford scholarship for students who excel in history? Applicants would be required to write a paper on some aspect of local history.

Put my wife Phyllis and me down for a generous donation.

And speaking of our late historian, who died at 103 last week, some corrections. Ed and his late wife Ruth were married in 1942, not at the end of the war in 1945, and Ed and his brother Bill founded Ford Printing, not Ruth, then busy raising their child. Ruth later worked in the business.

Bill Ford, now in his late 90’s, is a patient at the Golden Hill infirmary where Ed died.

Calling hours for Ed Ford will at Leahy’s Funeral Home on Smith Avenue in Kingston on Monday, May 3 from 4 to 7.