Two weeks to go. The Republican Party and their fearless leader seem confused, disoriented and running low on cash. Perhaps the hydroxychloroquine is having an effect.
With the real possibility that the Party may lose power on November 3 you might think that that threat would help focus their attention on pandemic-related issues, but no, they’re too busy trying to pack the Supreme Court with another appointment squeezed in before the election. After all, they got away with ignoring Merrick Garland to pack Neil Gorsuch onto the Court in 2017.
There are 11 million fewer jobs in this country today than there were in March. Businesses are shutting down. Unemployment insurance is running out for millions. States, local governments, schools and colleges are laying off people who provide vital services. Two hundred twenty thousand Americans have died. Eight million have been infected. The second wave of the virus appears to have arrived, but Republicans are focused on packing the Court.
Donald Trump has never shown any consistency in thinking, demonstrating daily that thoughts pop out of his brain and onto his Twitter feed in totally unpredictable and useless ways. Mitch McConnell is more devious as he ignores the fact that his home state of Kentucky is basically on welfare while he harangues about “mismanaged Democrat states.”
The Republicans in Congress seem intent on passing a “skinny” relief bill, if they pass anything at all. That basically means “we’ll take care of corporate America, buy some facemasks, and ignore people who are out of work.” They don’t care if state and local taxes need to go up to maintain vital public services. They won’t mind if schools have to lay off teachers and if cities and towns need to do the same with police and fire personnel and other vital services.
The Republicans, it seems, after increasing spending and reducing tax revenues for the past three years are beginning to morph into their basic right wing stance about government spending after just ending the 2020 fiscal year with a 3.1 trillion dollar deficit. A third or more of that red ink relates to tax cuts they pushed through in late 2017. Their election prospects have something to do with that change in attitude.
We are now seeing the consequences of the Republicans’ indifference to the state and local taxes and service cuts as county and town budgets get presented. School district budgets were approved earlier this year, but cutbacks in their spending are likely as the “withholding” of aid from cash-strapped states more likely becomes actual cuts.
County Executive Mark Poloncarz last week released his proposed 2021 budget. The county has taken a large hit from reduced sales tax collections. His budget is a mix of eliminated vacant jobs, a few layoffs, a small property tax increase and some use of the county reserve funds. Some road work and other programs have been deferred. Considering the circumstances the budget seems appropriate to maintaining most county services while keeping the interests of taxpayers in sight.
The large towns in Erie County have also been working to prepare workable 2021 budgets. The towns have been impacted by lower sales tax revenues too. Most are dipping into their reserves to keep taxes down somewhat. West Seneca has in recent years depleted its reserves and is borrowing $600,000 on a short term basis. Hiring freezes and the elimination of some positions are being used to reduce costs. West Seneca is cutting five positions in their police department.
Budgets proposed by the supervisors of Cheektowaga, Tonawanda and West Seneca are all raising their tax levies by small amounts. Hamburg’s taxes will go down $106,000 or 0.37 percent compared with 2020.
Amherst, on the other hand, is looking to raise the property tax levy by 8.54 percent. During the summer the town board asked the state for permission to borrow up to $8 million on a long-term basis to close their 2020 budget deficit. Orchard Park is looking at a proposed 9.89 percent increase in their levy. Town governments in Erie County do have the benefit of receiving the total amounts of their property tax levies, with any delinquent tax payments left for the county to collect.
And then there is the City of Buffalo, which is now nearly a third of the way through its 2020-2021 fiscal year. All quiet there. No announced efforts to cut city spending or otherwise deal with a budget that has a $76 million hole in it from planning on $65 million in federal pandemic relief and $11 million that is expected but has not been received from the Buffalo Casino. Crossing your fingers does not usually work when it comes to municipal budgeting.
A Biden victory and a Democratic takeover of the United States Senate might in January or February produce some financial assistance for the states, local governments and school districts, but what the magnitude of the assistance would be is anybody’s guess. In the meantime counties and towns are at least going through the exercise of budgeting for the revenue holes that the pandemic recession has created. Buffalo is totally dependent on wishful thinking.
Even if federal relief comes in 2021 governments will need to take a look at their out-years too because federal relief might be a one-and-done proposition. It is a challenging time. Who is up to it?
Early voting starts on October 24th
Vote early – it’s an easy thing to do.
Early voting in New York State begins on Saturday, October 24 and runs for nine days. Here are links to locations and times in Niagara and Erie Counties.
If you are voting by mail, consider the ballot on your kitchen counter a “time is of the essence” matter and get it to your closest mailbox now.