Round and round
On Oct. 4, county executive Patrick Ryan presented the
legislature a proposed budget of $342.280,667 million for the county’s fiscal
year, beginning Jan. 1. On Dec. 4, the legislature, by unanimous vote, approved
a budget of $342.872,326 million for the fiscal year beginning Jan. 1. According
to the budget office, that comes to an increase of $591,659, 99.98 percent of
the executive budget as submitted.
So much for the legislature’s self-described “power of the purse.”
Other than bickering over nickels and dimes (comparatively speaking), the only real voice of dissension came from former ways and means chairman Rich Gerentine of Marlborough. Gerentine, who will retire after 26 years in the legislature in January, questioned the sustainability of a budget that increases spending by some $13 million (a record for one year) and adds 38 positions to the payroll, half on the county dime. Coming from Gerentine, who like others over the years helped pad the county payroll with relatives and cronies to unsustainable levels until former county executive Mike Hein wielded the axe, this was almost laughable. But at least somebody raised a yellow flag. A negative vote, even one, would have sent a much clearer message, however.
To be sure, there was much roiling of waters as the legislature tried hard to give the appearance of oversight. The legislature’s ways and means committee held weekly meetings after the Nov. 5 elections, arriving at Wednesday’s special budget session with almost 40 amendments. Alas, it was all back and forth, take a few thousand here, give it back there, another hundred thousand here, give it back there, a zero-sum game if there ever was one.
And people question if we need 23 legislators; there is legislation in the works to reduce the body by two beginning in 2024. After this budget back and forth, some must wonder whether we need a legislature at all and if so, one considerably reduced from the rubber stamps now occupying space at the county office building.
As usual, there were political issues. There’s a new sheriff in town. Ryan will begin his first full four-year term in January and some legislators feel he needs to be reminded that the executive and the legislature are “co-equal” branches of government. If so, it was hard to tell from the budget folderoo.
It doesn’t get in the papers or in any of the almost daily press releases the executive issues, but there appears to be growing resentment about how Ryan interacts with the elected people he calls his “partners” in the legislature.
Ryan gives the impression through his almost weekly town hall meetings that only the executive is in touch with grass roots residents, which suggests to some legislators that they aren’t. His policies, he says, spring from the people, those hundreds of interactions in town halls during his tenure as executive since June. Legislators, some of whom might get lost on their way to town hall, find this deeply offensive.
Ryan’s timing could also use some work. Smack in the middle of legislature budget review, the exec sticks a finger in their eye by vetoing a controversial bill that would have forced one of his deputies to relinquish his seat on the New Paltz village board as a conflict of interest. Castigating the legislature at that point no doubt produced a flurry of amendments.
Legislators grouse about “communications” between the branches of government, as if the Hein administration were some kind of open book. Clearly, that needs work on both sides.
But, we have a bottom line even if lines have been drawn. It could be a most interesting year.