Good Morning
Good Morning

McKinstry: Lights out - Legislators pass budget after Democrats walk out

Democrat Michael Kaplowitz speaks at the podium as,

Democrat Michael Kaplowitz speaks at the podium as, from left, Minority Whip Gordon Burrows (R), Minority Leader James Maisano (R) and Virginia Perez (D) stand by at their announcement of a bipartisan budget proposal before a Westchester County Board of Legislators meeting in White Plains. (Dec. 7, 2012) Credit: Xavier Mascarenas

Nine Westchester County legislators -- seven Republicans and two Democrats -- this afternoon approved a $1.7 billion hybrid budget that includes compromises on day care layoffs and program cuts.

But eight Democrats stormed out of the room before the vote and are saying they sent the budget back to committee. That was after they turned off the lights on the lawmakers that stayed behind.

“We stayed in the chambers and acted like adults and did our jobs,” said Minority Leader James Maisano of New Rochelle, who assumed the role as chairman. “The fact is that eight people walked out like babies. … Adults have to make tough decisions in government.”

County Executive Rob Astorino is scheduled to sign the budget this afternoon. The Dems, presumably will challenge it somehow.

You can't make this stuff up. But you still have to wonder if Westchester County is headed toward its own fiscal cliff?

Yes. Unless Democrats and Republicans bridged vastly different versions on how to spend $1.7 billion while not raising taxes (details on spending have not yet been released).

“We need a healthy dose of common sense,” said Legis. Mike Kaplowitz, a Democrat from Somers who earlier this year stopped caucusing with his own party. The way Kaplowitz sees negotiations, there are some “obvious compromises” on things like day care. Others will require more effort, he said, but are attainable.

My dad often told me that the thing about common sense is that it’s not all that common. And if I’ve learned anything from watching these lawmakers over the years is that even if good old fashioned reasoning prevails, the legislative sausage-making is going to first get messy before everybody is holding hands and singing “kumbaya.”

Today is just another weird example of that.

Kaplowitz and Legis. Virginia Perez of Yonkers were the two Democrats who worked with the Republican on the budget.

Much like the wrangling going on in Washington between President Barack Obama and Republicans in the House over the fiscal cliff, we’re in the midst of the ugliness with the back-and-forth.

In a pre-emptive move, Astorino last night said he was “beyond disturbed” with Democrats and plans to veto the whole darn budget unless there’s some wholesale changes. And for the first time since taking office in 2010, he has enough Republicans, 7, on the 17-member board to sustain his vetoes.

“They have turned upside down this budget to the point that it’s a non-workable budget,” Astorino told reporters last night in a conference call. If the Democrats approve their budget, “it would be complete chaos next year.”

Democrats responded with their own salvo, claiming they “strongly rebuked” the GOP for its cuts to child care, health centers and union jobs. With their latest announcement, they’re saying they are giving Astorino another crack at the budget.

They restored most of what Astorino cut --- adding $40.8 million in expenses, $31.6 million in expected revenues while using $11 million in reserve funds, or rainy day savings. They also went after the county executive non-union hires like commissioners and deputy commissioners – or what they dubbed “political hirelings.”

“Taxpayers in Westchester should be outraged,” said the board’s Vice Chairman Lyndon Williams (D-Mount Vernon) in a statement. “The Republicans are happy to let Astorino’s political hires make an average of $97,000 a year while showing hard-working County employees the door.”

If your still with me –and believe me, I don’t blame you if you’ve moved on or simply thrown your arms up in the air in frustration – this is the sort of posturing that goes on in government all across the country.

So let’s hope that lawmakers get all the showmanship out of their systems, get to work, and hammer out a responsible budget that reflects some sort of reality and compromise – and a little bit of common sense.

And let’s hope this doesn’t end up in court.