Democrats should stop saying no to 15% contribution plan

2/16/2010 4:16:39 PM

 

 

The following ran in The Journal News – Community View on February 13, 2010.

 

Submitted by County Legislators Jim Maisano, Gordon Burrows, Bernice Spreckman & John Testa

 

The Republican members of the Westchester County Board of Legislators applaud the recent columns by the Editorial Board and Phil Reisman calling for immediate passage of County Executive Rob Astorino’s proposal for 400 nonunion county employees to start contributing 15 percent to the cost of their health-care benefits. We also appreciate that the board’s Democratic leadership was challenged for their delays and roadblocks on this important legislation.

 

We wish to emphasize that the Republican county legislators endorsed this proposal two weeks ago. We are ready to vote for this legislation immediately and are troubled by the board’s blatant delaying tactics.

 

Recent elections demonstrate that voters want real change from our elected leaders, and they want it quickly. This was the clear message when voters selected a new county executive last November. This message is coming from Democrats, Republicans and independents. People understand we are still confronting an economic crisis. Many of our constituents are struggling with unemployment and high taxes. They are looking for decisive action to address their concerns.

 

We had hoped the new county executive and new board leadership would finally spark legislative action to reform the Westchester County government. Yet, remarkably, in our first opportunity to come together in a bipartisan way by passing the 15 percent employee health-benefit contribution, saving more than $1 million per year in the county budget, our board has done nothing but create obstacles to its passage.

 

We are deeply concerned about our county’s financial situation. We face a possible $60 million shortfall in the 2011 county budget, which our board will review in only nine months. Immediate action must be taken to reduce spending and everything must be on the table. These cuts may be difficult, but we have no other choice. We can either cut spending or raise taxes. The priority for the Republican county legislators is to make aggressive spending cuts immediately to avoid a property tax increase in 2011.

 

We strongly support the proposal to have county employees contribute 15 percent of their health-care benefits. In most county governments and many municipalities across New York state, employees do contribute to the cost of their health care. In the private sector, it is a long established standard procedure. Only two weeks ago, Dutchess County voted to require employee contributions. In the City of White Plains, employees hired after April 1 will contribute, and in the City of New Rochelle, employees contribute 18 percent of their health-care benefits and have done so since the 1980s.

 

If this sounds like an important issue, it is — and it is too important to be a Democrat-vs.-Republican issue. This reform will save $1 million and sends a message that business as usual is over. In the past 10 years, health-care plan costs for county employees have skyrocketed from $67 million to almost $150 million per year. The cost of a family plan is more than $22,000 and for a single plan nearly $8,000.

 

The impact of these costs on Westchester’s budget is devastating, and we cannot keep raising property taxes to balance the budget. Property taxes are already too high. The proposed legislation will save money, while making a bold statement that we are committed to reducing the cost of the county government.

 

Unfortunately, the county executive’s proposal has hit one snag after another. First it was watered down when the Democratic leadership offered an alternative plan that covered relatively few employees. Then the proposed legislation was sidetracked to a newly created committee. In government, the quickest way to take the steam out of any proposal is to bury it in a "committee" — or in this case, three committees.

 

These delaying tactics are nothing more than different ways of saying no: no to a newly elected county executive, no to an eminently fair and fiscally responsible plan, and no to the taxpayers of Westchester. Frankly, if the Democratic legislators cannot even support this $1 million cut to the budget, how will they ever make the more difficult cuts to deal with the upcoming $60 million shortfall?

 

Elected officials everywhere need to start listening to their constituents. We must reform government, find new ways to provide services more efficiently and cost-effectively, and reduce wasteful and unnecessary spending.

 

Let’s show we heard this message, stop the delay and come together for a unanimous vote on this proposal. We are ready to vote for the 15 percent medical benefit contribution immediately. Who is with us?