County executives from around New York held a media call Thursday to talk about impacts from the proposed state budget; federal COVID-19 relief bill negotiations; vaccine distribution and more.
Stephen Acquario is executive director of the New York State Association of Counties. He says NYSAC was planning to deliver testimony Thursday in response to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s proposed budget.
“We’re going to focus on two things — a pause, or a delay on the counties’ sales-tax diversion, which was included in last year’s state budget, and we’re asking this because the hospital and healthcare industry received over $10 billion of federal investment from the prior COVID stimulus programs, and we feel that that’s not necessary now to divert the local sales tax for a distressed hospital fund,” Acquario says. “Two, we’re asking the legislature to restore the 5 percent cuts across the board, which impact the counties, of about $160 million.”
Republican Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro is also president for the New York State County Executives Association (NYSCEA).
“This is not the most challenging of state budgets if the cuts don’t get deeper,” Molinaro says. “And I think we want to start there.”
Acquario offers another suggestion for the state budget.
“We’ve asked the governor to put language into the state budget that would allow the sales tax to be collected on vacation rentals, through programs such as Airbnb,” says Acquario. “And we’re hopeful that that could generate upwards of $10 million to the state and the local governments.”
He says the provision should apply outside New York City. Meantime, the latest federal COVID-19 relief package under negotiation includes direct aid to state and local governments. For example, Congressman Antonio Delgado says New York’s 19th Congressional District would see an estimated $438 million in direct federal funding to counties, towns and villages. Again, Molinaro:
“We do not believe that every dollar of aid should flow through Albany,” Molinaro says. “We’ve never believed it, we don’t believe it now and we don’t think it is necessary or responsible.”
Acquario says, at this point, some $12.6 billion would go to the state, while New York’s counties would see about $2.2 billion.
“This is not just for lost revenue,” says Acquario. “The stimulus package is different and is targeted toward rather a different approach of rebuilding economy of the United States and in the state of New York in particular.”
Molinaro says the needle has moved slightly on vaccine distribution, with the counties being somewhat more involved and informed.
“If we can have the doses that we expect redirected from hospitals to county governments, it would give us a broader ability to get vaccines in the arms of residents,” says Molinaro. “We still, however, remain somewhat sidelined, and we’re going to continue to advocate for that, for the role that taxpayers across the state of New York have expected of us.”
He took the sidelined analogy further.
“This would be like keeping Tom Brady on the bench during a Super Bowl. You wouldn’t do it. You’d take your best and brightest and boldest players and you put them on the field,” Molinaro says. “Right now, we’re on the field of play, and, right now, county governments need to be off the bench effectively engaged in bringing vaccines and thus hope and opportunity to people who want it.”
Republican Rockland County Executive Ed Day, who appreciated the Brady reference, says he is frustrated with vaccine distribution.
“The fact of the matter is, I’m going to call upon the governor here to, use his own words, follow the data, follow the science. And we’re looking for equity. We are, in Rockland County, we are a community in need,” Day says. “And I would look very simply at two things. We have 11 percent of our population has tested positive, and we are number two in fatalities per 10,000 in the entire state of New York.”
Day says his county successfully handled vaccinations during a measles outbreak mainly in 2019. Molinaro also responded to a question about any efforts to limit the governor’s emergency powers.
“It is general consensus that the time has come that the state legislature restore the balance between the executive and legislative branch, and that we restore the balance between state and local governments,” says Molinaro.
Day says state control is no longer needed.
“You do not win a war from a bunker in Albany and have your troops and your field generals 200, 300 miles away,” Day says. “It is doomed to failure, and it’s one of the reasons why we’re having such difficulty in trying to get things through, especially with the lack of communication that my colleagues have all mentioned.”
In the Hudson Valley, the state runs a large vaccination site at the Westchester County Center.