Senator David Carlucci announced Monday he will not support the three-eighths of one percent sales tax increase proposed by county officials.
“After lengthy discussions with Rockland County officials, representatives from the Governor's office, the State Comptroller's office, and the Finance Committees in the both the Senate and Assembly, I have decided not to support the sales tax increase at this time because there is little evidence that it would solve ,” said Carlucci in a statement.
County Legislator and Budget & Finance Committee Chairman Ilan Schoenberger said on Friday morning Carlucci said he would introduce the bill but by the afternoon had changed his mind. Schoenberger said Carlucci first called him at 8:15 a.m. and he said he was introducing the bill. But at 3:30 p.m. he called again and he was not going to introduce it.
“He didn’t give me any reason, he just said he was not introducing it,” said Schoenberger.
The county executive’s office had not been formally notified of the decision.
“To my knowledge, we don’t have a formal letter,” said Levine.
Carlucci’s spokesman, Jason Elan, said, “The whole concept behind the sales tax, we don’t think this is a long term sustainable strategy.” He noted that from Day One, Carlucci did not think the bill had a real chance of getting passed in the Senate.
Carlucci also stated, “I remain committed to working with Rockland County to help them find a way out of its financial mess, however at this time I can not in good faith submit a home rule request to increase taxes on the already over taxed residents of Rockland County.”
Schoenberger said a portion of the money raised by the sales tax hike was to be dedicated to paying for the 10-year deficit bond. He noted that the money raised would be coming from everyone who shopped in Rockland, not just its residents. He questioned why Carlucci’s decision came almost three and a half months after the request was presented on January 19.
Ron Levine, spokesman for County Executive C. Scott Vanderhoef, noted the sales tax increase was presented by the legislature as one of the ways to reduce the $80 million deficit. Vanderhoef had initially proposed laying off more than 500 county employees, which the legislators opposed. Vanderhoef decided not to veto the legislature’s measure.
In his remarks, Carlucci noted the county was seeking to raise taxes at a time when the state is working to reduce them.
“At the state level we have worked with the Governor to close a $13.5 billion dollar budget gap while cutting taxes to the lowest level in 50 years. To support a sales tax increase at this time, with the economy still in recovery, would be a step backwards on progress we have made.”
Carlucci referred to the pending financial review of the Summit Park Nursing Home as not being made public. Levine said the final report has not been completed. Summit Park has been losing millions each of the past several years.
Carlucci pointed to several other issues that he said concerned him. One was the $18 million in planned union concessions that have not been agreed upon and the other was the drop in the county’s sales tax revenue for the first quarter. He said it fell nearly $500,000 for the first three months of 2012, which showed the riskiness of relying on it to help balance the budget.
State Assembly members Ellen Jaffee (95th District) and Annie Rabbitt (97th District) introduced the home rule legislation in the assembly.
It is unclear what county government’s next step will be.
“It just means we’re just going to move forward and consider other options,” said Levine. “There’ll be a reaction, a commonsense reaction of what we have to do.”
Schoenberger predicted difficult financial times ahead for many Rockland residents because of the decision.
“He has abandoned the people of Rockland County,” he said. “There will probably be hundreds of people laid off.”