It was like a presidential news conference in the waning days of the Nixon administration, where Tricky Dick tried to talk foreign policy but the media only wanted to talk Watergate.
Assemblyman Kevin Cahill held a press conference at the Governor Clinton Hotel in Kingston Tuesday morning to discuss the “many accomplishments” and “few disappointments” of the state legislature’s 2013 session. But the local news media pressed him mostly about his conflicts with County Executive Mike Hein regarding failed sales-tax legislation in Albany.
“It’s not on my agenda,” Cahill said prior to the press conference, referring to accusations from Hein and others that he had thwarted passage of a sales-tax extension that could mean upwards of $26 million in lost revenue to county and local governments next year. “But if somebody raises it I’ll address the issue.”
The current formula, first enacted in 1993, expires Nov. 30. If it’s not renewed by the state legislature and signed into law by Gov. Cuomo, Ulster County would only be allowed to collect a 3 percent sales tax, rather than 4 percent.
Though Cahill did not mention sales tax legislation during his 16-minute review of legislative activities, he spent almost twice as much time fielding questions about it from media after his remarks.
Kingston Mayor Shayne Gallo has estimated that failure to extend the temporary 1 percent sales-tax supplement, combined with Safety Net welfare and election costs, could cost the city upwards of $5 million and result in 20 to 40 layoffs, including cops and firefighters, from the city’s workforce. He said he would ask the Common Council to convene a special session to discuss the impact of the loss of the sales tax and to pass a resolution calling on Cahill to back the sales tax extension. Council Majority Leader Tom Hoffay is an aide to Cahill.
“[Cahill’s plan] is shifting the sales tax top the property tax. We’re looking at $5 million that we don’t have,” Gallo said Tuesday. “The county can’t [absorb Safety Net and election costs] in one year and Cahill knows that.”
At his press conference Thursday, June 27, to unveil his BEAT plan for Midtown’s revitalization, Gallo noted that he had asked Kingston Police Chief Egidio Tinti and Kingston Fire Department Chief Mark Brown to prepare “layoff lists” of “20-plus” employees each, who might lose their jobs if the sales-tax supplement is not extended.
Conference vs. conference
Hein’s deputy budget officer, J.J. Hanson, and deputy county executives Ken Crannell and Bob Sudlow sat with the media during Cahill’s press conference, but did not speak. Cahill took exception twice to some of Crannell’s facial expressions, at one point showing irritation and inviting him to the podium.
Hanson and Crannell held their own press conference in the lobby of the Governor Clinton following Cahill’s one-hour session, with the assemblyman standing among the press. They attempted to refute Cahill chapter and verse. Sudlow did not participate.
Crannell confirmed he was speaking on behalf of the executive, whom he said could not attend due to a time conflict. Hanson and Crannell said they attended voluntarily. “We were not ordered,” said Hanson during his effort to present the county administration’s side of the dispute.
Cahill had not attended a previous Hein press conference where the county executive and a host of local officials had attacked the assemblyman and warned of dire consequences if the 1 percent sales tax supplement was not extended for another two years. Hein has called Cahill an obstructionist and an extortionist. Cahill has called Hein a liar and a scaremonger.
“He has not told people the whole truth,” Cahill said. “He has not told the people that he has repeatedly refused to negotiate with me on issues of sales tax, home relief and election costs.”
At one point during his press conference, Cahill wondered whether he might have been attempting to negotiate with the wrong branch of county government in dealing with the executive. “I got a phone call from Legislature [Chairwoman Terry] Bernardo, who told me the legislature makes policy decisions regarding sales-tax distribution,” he said. “I got another phone call from [legislature] Ways and Means Committee Chairman [Richard] Gerentine, who said his committee makes policy on financial matters. I’m asking the legislature to get its act together and get back to me.”