I suppose the good news for Assemblyman Kevin Cahill is that potential opponents so far have only one issue on which to run. But that one issue is a doozie. Cahill is being held directly responsible for the “loss” of $3.2 million in sales tax receipts in December and January after he blocked the county government’s request for a routine extension of its 1 percent surtax for another two years.
That controversy, always near the surface, resurfaced last week with County Executive Mike Hein once again accusing the assemblyman of abusing the public — a recurring theme on the executive’s part.
A recent report by the Association of Counties suggests the shortfall in Ulster County sales tax receipts might not be entirely Cahill’s fault. The association reported that 27 counties (including Ulster) reported diminished sales tax receipts for the last quarter of 2013, though none as precipitous as Ulster’s. The report also notes that sales taxes from 1990 to 2007 increased statewide by an average of 4 percent a year. From 2008 to last year, sales tax receipts increased only 1.7 percent.
As a standalone figure $3.2 million is serious money; taken in context, less so. It represents about 1 percent of the county’s 2014 budget, leaving 99 percent intact. What with all the Chicken Littles falling out of the sky, the county seemed to absorb its $3.2 million loss with hardly a burp. Taxes weren’t increased. Programs were maintained.
To date, Cahill has been portrayed as the bad guy. Mentioned less often is that three times that sales tax dip has been expended because of the county takeover of municipal Safety Net welfare expenses. The beneficiaries of the takeover are the places like Kingston, Wawarsing and Ulster, all with higher-than-average poverty populations.
Let’s look at the glass again.
As Cahill has asserted, though without much success, “depriving” the county of $3.2 million in sales tax revenue left an equal amount in the pockets of the people who pay those sales taxes. That is not a bad thing, given the level of taxation most endure. What’s wrong with letting people keep some of their own money?
There has been for some time the belief, popular among liberals like Cahill, that tax moneys, be they from sales, income or property taxes, belong to the government to dispense. Inherent in that mindset is that taxpayers cannot live without all the services that government provides.
For opponents, the political season is fast approaching. The major parties will go to convention in about a month, which means all the winter wannabes and fence-sitters will be stepping up or out.
Of late, veteran county Legislator Kevin Roberts of Wallkill has been making the rounds of town Republican committees. “We think he’s a winner and he’ll have our support,” said county GOP Chairman Roger Rascoe. Roberts wasn’t available for comment.
New Paltz Town Supervisor Susan Zimet gets mentioned as a possible Democratic primary opponent for Cahill, but that may only be the testing of the waters. Personally, the primary race I’d like to see is Hein versus Cahill. But Hein is probably far too smart to confront his nemesis head-on.
Raising the ante
As the clock ticks toward a June 30 deadline for casino developers to submit formal applications (with million-dollar deposits) for state review, Ulster County is turning up the heat. Last week, the county legislature, as expected, reiterated its formal support for a $400 million casino at the former Nevele Hotel just south of Ellenville. Not to be outdone by this rare display of legislative initiative, Hein this week appointed an “economic development alliance” specifically tasked with promoting the Nevele project. Hein, a vigorous supporter of this project since its inception two years ago, stands on firm ground. Almost 60 percent of Ulster voters approved the amendment to allow casino gambling last year.
Michael Treanor, the Nevele’s CEO, assured the Ulster legislature last week in just about so many words that Orange County, which has four sites in play, doesn’t have a chance against Ulster. Trainor, who may have been whistling past the cemetery, certainly does not lack confidence.
Former New Paltz Republican chairman Butch Dener may be tough in the political clinches, but he’s all heart when it comes to organ donations. Dener, after waiting for several years and close to death, got a liver transplant a few years ago and has since tirelessly advocated for organ transplants.
Last week Dener paid his annual visit to the county legislature with another more notable liver recipient, former Orange County Executive Ed Diana, and with local artist Charles Lyonhart. Dener, perhaps caught up in the moment, twice referred to Diana as the former chairman of the Orange County Legislature, a slip of the first order. Diana fought constantly with the legislature.
While at the same time asking media to do more, Dener criticized the media for failing adequately to publicize the need for organ transplants. That’s my Butch; you either love him or you hate him.
I have to admit that Butch has begun to wear me down. A few years ago when he began making his annual appeals for donors at the April legislature meetings, the mere thought of somebody plucking organs from my carcass, was well, repulsive. Now I’m not so sure. As Lyonhart pointed out, it’s not your body but your spirit that goes to heaven. And if hell is your destination, who cares?