County executives around the state have grown deeply distrustful of how the state government shares information about sales tax collections.
The New York State Association of Counties has grown so concerned that it recently went out of its way to say that it was only accusing the state of a lack of transparency, not wrongdoing.
“We are not necessarily suggesting the state is holding on to our sales tax revenue; we just need greater transparency so that we can more effectively anticipate our revenue and manage our budgets,” NYSAC President Tom Santulli, the Chemung County executive, said in a statement last week.
This lack of info was troubling to Democrat Howard Weitzman, who had been Nassau County comptroller until his upset loss to Republican George Maragos last fall.
“The state system is outdated and outmoded,” Weitzman said in a recent interview. “You don’t really know what your sales tax receipts for any three-month period until the month after the end of the quarter. All you have are estimates.”
Weitzman said the counties rely on whatever the state says. “Nobody audits to make sure they’re right. Basically, everybody relies on the state.” (It should be noted that Weitzman was more guarded in his commnets during his time office, but he nonetheless did speak out.)
Santulli made his comments after the counties got a new round of bad news on sales tax revenue last week.
“We knew the numbers would not be good, but no one predicted they would be this dismal. It begs for a more timely and transparent flow of information ... Then we would have been more prepared for this data,” Santulli said.
NYSAC proposed “a dashboard-like information sharing system” that would provide a platform for enhanced revenue forecasts, especially of the sales tax.
In response, the state Department of Taxation and Finance outlined its procedures for distributing the revenue. (It’s complicated.) And added that, “we are open to hearing the ideas and suggestions of NYSAC and its members on how to improve this process during these especially difficult fiscal times.”