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Zero Support

With less backing than he claims, Albany County legislator pushes for zero-percent tax cap

by Laurie Lynn Fischer on March 3, 2011

Albany County Legislator Brian Scavo (D-District 7) has proposed a zero-percent tax cap in Albany County.

In a Feb. 25 press release, Scavo said he has drafted and submitted a zero-percent tax cap resolution to Frank Commisso, deputy chair of the Legislature’s Audit and Finance Committee. The binding resolution would “enforce spending restrictions during this current budget year, not job cuts or layoffs,” Scavo wrote.
The zero-percent tax cap “will be a collaboration of Democrats and Republicans coming to together to help the people in this economic time of need,” he wrote, claiming that “our newly elected Governor also is an inspiration for this Resolution.”

Scavo claimed that Commisso backed his idea. Contacted on Monday, Comisso denied that. And was not pleased to hear that Scavo was saying he supported his legislation.
“Now this 0% Tax Cap for Albany County has the support of the Majority Leader Frank Commisso and will soon give the Property owners of Albany county who are Residents of Albany county much needed property Tax Relief,” Scavo’s press release said.

“I will talk to Mr. Scavo very shortly,” Commisso said. “I don’t know why he does things like that. Apparently, he feels he can do what he wants. That’s stepping over the line as far as I’m concerned. That’s his piece of legislation. Don’t put other people’s names onto it.”

Commisso said he had not yet seen the resolution, and that he thinks Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s suggested 2-percent cap is a more realistic goal.
“I wouldn’t be supporting something I haven’t seen,” he said. “I’m very happy with the governor’s proposal of two percent. Unless something changes dramatically, I couldn’t support zero percent. I’d be misinforming my constituency. It’s very misleading. No way in the foreseeable future, due to the financial status of Albany County, can we predict a zero-percent tax increase.”
Lately, there has been a slight rise in sales-tax revenue, but not enough to keep taxes level, he said.

Audit and Finance Committee Chairman Shawn Morse (D-District 18) didn’t sanction Scavo’s resolution either.
“I don’t believe it’s realistic in the sense of something we could achieve,” he said. “What I’m not going to do is support resolutions that give false hope to anybody. A property cap of zero hurts far more people than it can ever help.”
To achieve zero percent, the legislature would take severe action like closing down the Albany County Nursing home and halting delivery of Meals on Wheels, Morse said. There wouldn’t be enough money to run the Albany County Jail, he said.
Zero percent is “impossible,” given the “enormous” amount of unfunded state mandates that the county must carry out, Morse said.

Nine mandates comprise 90 percent of the state tax levy: Medicare, public assistance, early intervention services, preschool special education, child welfare, youth detention, probation, indigent defense and pension costs, said Republican Audit and Finance Committee member Richard Mendick (R-District 36).

Mendick laughed wryly when he heard about Scavo’s proposal. He said it is similar to his own suggestion, which was referred to the Legislature’s Audit and Finance Committee on December 6, 2010.

“We in the minority caucus, we put forth lots of legislation,” he said. “We see it in slightly different format coming through the majority party. We’re fairly used to putting things out and they somehow get co-opted by the majority, but that’s OK.”

Under Mendick’s resolution, the county executive wouldn’t let 2012 expenditures exceed those in the 2011 budget, adjusted for the rate of inflation. Setting a limit would hold the county’s feet to the fire, he said.

“If we could, it would be good if we actually cut below zero percent,” he said. “It puts pressure on the county to come up with savings. A number of people would say—and I would be one of those—that pressure is not a bad idea. The opposite of that concept is you continue to spend unabated.”

Albany County Executive Michael Breslin reserved comment on the zero-percent tax cap.

“No one in the County Executive’s office or the budget office has seen a copy of this resolution, and it is not on the Legislature’s meeting agendas,” Albany County spokeswoman Mary Duryea said. “The decision to move Brian Scavo’s resolution forward is with the legislature and therefore, it would be inappropriate for the executive and his budget director to comment at this time.”