The stunning results from last Tuesday’s election will be sliced, diced and served up to fit any number of theories and agendas: it was a repudiation of President Obama, a swing back to the the Republican party, a “throw the bums out” screed against incumbents, etc.
As a Democratic, I am indeed concerned with the weak performance of so many incumbent Democrats. But as a Westchester resident and taxpayer, I am also hopeful that the results will be a wake up call for all our elected officials and seen as a cry for help from suburban communities, so many of which are facing severe fiscal challenges and oppressive tax burdens.
Suburbanites are viewed by many politicians from urban areas as uniformly rich, selfish, and whiny. As a result, it is difficult for our Westchester elected officials, especially Democrats, to galvanize support among their colleagues for bills or policies that aid suburban areas. But today’s suburbs have similar issues as cities with respect to job losses, crumbling schools and poverty, but lack the broader revenue streams of corporate, income and sales taxes to tackle them. Moreover, income taxes paid by suburban residents are used to ameliorate urban problems but little comes back to our communities to pay for services.
Exit polling on Tuesday indicated that “property taxes” were a major reason for the defeat of incumbents. Anyone living here knows that the solutions to the “property tax problem” are not easy. Suburban communities self-fund almost all of the services residents receive: schools, sanitation, roads, fire protection etc. Public servants are not faceless bureaucrats we don’t see – they are our teachers, town officials, police and firefighters. Our school board has to go to the voters every year to ask for more to do less just to keep up with rising pension and benefit costs.
“Cutting the fat” is not going to make a significant dent in reducing the tax burden and all the newly elected governors, county executives, town supervisors and mayors will discover this in short order. My hope is that our Democratic president, governor and senators look carefully at ways to respond to these concerns with mandate relief, reforming the tax code to better reflect our high cost of living and providing leadership on public employee benefits instead of leaving it to us to face alone.
There are some very good current proposals: Governor Paterson’s Tier 5 proposal and Attorney General Cuomo’s consolidation law, for example, would reduce the costs of local government in the future. Voters have made clear, however, that they are no longer willing to wait.
Emily S. Hoffner