Now that Ulster County Executive Mike Hein and Assemblyman Kevin Cahill have worked out their differences for the time being over sales-tax issues, who won? The answer, I think, is both, though Cahill took a beating in the court of public opinion and figures to be Hein’s whipping boy for as long as both are in office.
For perspective, reset the clock to mid-June. The state legislative session is rushing toward its conclusion. Cahill is asking (demanding?) that Hein include county takeover of Safety Net expenses (county assistance to the poor) in future budgets. Otherwise the county’s request for renewal of the 1 percent sales-tax extension will die in committee. Hein tells him to pound salt.
At stake is about $6 million in sales tax revenue, with about a third for Safety Net. Hein refuses to talk and launches a PR blitz on Cahill, calling him “an extortionist,” among other things. Fear tactics follow loathing. Hein ramps up the debate with grim warnings of draconian reductions in county services should the “Cahill cuts” go into effect. Cahill counters by accusing Hein of hiding the contested amounts in his $357 million budget.
Public officials, from Comptroller Elliott Auerbach, county legislators, town supervisors to Kingston Mayor Shayne Gallo, rally around the executive. Pugnacious to a fault, Cahill stands his ground. The deadlock continues all summer. Anguish about possible extension of the county’s 1 percent sales tax, at least into the next session of the legislature in January, is palpable.
Last week saw a summit meeting in Hein’s office, pitting Cahill against the herd of supporters the executive invited. It turned out about even, with Cahill not only fending off the spears and arrows, but getting in a few shots of his own.
“Hein’s a bully,” Dave Donaldson said to me after the fact. “But Cahill doesn’t bully. I know. I’ve tried.”
So Cahill took the abuse, but got pretty much what he wanted. Hein agreed to include safety-net costs in his 2014 budget, to be released this week. Cahill for the first time pledged to push for the sales-tax extension in January.
And as a bonus Hein, even without the $6 million he’ll lose by the delay in implementing the sales-tax extension, said he’d produce a budget that doesn’t raise taxes or lay off anybody in the sheriff’s department. He also said he will “protect” not-for-profits from county cuts.
In other words, the money was there all the time, just as Cahill alleged.
Cahill, like the cat who swallowed most of the mouse, has gone quietly to his corner plotting his next move. Hein, by decrying the “Cahill crisis” he says he now labors under, has signaled that this is not the last round.
Meanwhile, there remains collateral damage. Not that the rest of the county cares that much, but Gallo is still facing a $200,000 shortfall from this full circle back-and-forth. Unlike Hein, Gallo does not have millions buried in his budget for the proverbial rainy day. He’ll need to tap the city’s $2 million fund balance left to him by the man he abhors, former mayor Jim Sottile. Somewhere, Sottile is emitting a huge belly laugh.
Towns are relieved that Hein didn’t renege on safety-net relief, which seemed possible earlier this year.
Media wasn’t invited to the Hein-Cahill summit. It was a closed-door session. Both sides held separate, self-serving press conferences afterward.
If city taxpayers weren’t taken aback by Gallo’s stalking out in a huff toward the end of the two-hour summit session, they should be. This was their sole representative at a financial conference with major fiscal impact on his city and he walks? Forsooth.
Truth in packaging
Kudos to the hard-working Esopus-based Sojourner Truth Statue Committee. A gala unveiling was held at the permanent site of the statue at the corner of Broadway and Salem Street in Port Ewen on Saturday.
The bronze likeness as depicted by New Paltz sculptor Trini Greene, presents Truth as a 12-year-old at a time when she lived as a slave in Esopus. Greene, reportedly working from a few photographs of Truth as an adult and two local girls of similar height, succeeded in showing the determination and resolve that carried her subject from slavery to freedom and national and international fame as an abolitionist and feminist.
The statue and its dedication were the products of a five-year effort by committee members Anne Gordon, Tim Allred, the Rev. Evelyn Clarke and Corinne Nyquist.
Funding for the $90,000 project (including landscaping) was secured primarily from a $75,000 state grant secured by Assemblyman Cahill. Cahill, a soft touch for cultural or artistic projects, deserved much credit for helping bring this important project to fruition, but no more than he deserves.
By that I mean, the banner hung at the site should read “Funding for this project secured by a [state] grant from Assemblymember Cahill” rather than from the assemblyman. Cahill can be generous, but I doubt if he personally contributed $75,000 (almost a year’s salary) for this project as the banner suggests. Of note is that Cahill’s press release on the dedication uses the word “secured.” Maybe the banner makers missed the memo.
Cahill, incidentally, is not the only state or federal official who allows constituents to harbor the belief that local grants emanate from their own pockets, rather than from those of the taxpayers.
Light her up
If Democrats thought 11th-hour Republican candidate for county comptroller Linda McDonough was just a stand-in, they were disabused last week. McDonough, after hitting obligatory Republican functions for two months, came out swinging a few weeks ago in response to a press release from incumbent comptroller Auerbach on county mileage issues.
Auerbach, seeking a third term on the Democratic ticket, issued a report praising everyone, including himself, for a $152,000 decline in county mileage reimbursement costs since he first reported on the subject three years ago. Left unsaid was that county government employment is down considerably over the same period.
“Useless information,” scoffed the challenger. “Politics,” retorted the comptroller, which is pretty much the same thing.
Perhaps they could both adopt the Rolling Stones’ classic “Satisfaction” as campaign themes.