Friday, December 11, 2009

ARCC Fights for Lower Taxes

Below is a copy of the testimony delivered by ARCC President/CEO Todd Shimkus during the December 9th Public Hearing on the proposed 2010 budget before the Warren County Board of Supervisors. The Chamber is now reaching out to members urging them to contact Supervisor Matt Sokol at who indicated to Todd Shimkus before the hearing that he did NOT vote to raise sales taxes but instead to continue the debate in order to hear from the public.

Testimony of Todd Shimkus - December 9, 2009

My name is Todd Shimkus and I am the President/CEO of the Adirondack Regional Chamber of Commerce. The ARCC has over 1,000 members in Warren, Washington and Northern Saratoga Counties. For the record, I am a resident of Glens Falls.

There's an old saying that a camel is a horse designed by a committee.

I’m here tonight to suggest that the 2010 Budget is a camel of your committee’s collective creation, and the hump which differentiates this camel from a horse is represented by the fact that the budget includes an increase in both spending and taxes.

Now to those on this Board who believe a 9% increase in the property tax is too high, we agree. To those on this Board who believe an 8% sales tax is too high, we agree. While some of you suggest you must raise one or the other, we say there is a third option - - reduce spending. This doesn’t mean reducing the budget request of department heads and claiming you’ve made cuts. It means actually budgeting to spend less next year than you did this year. That is what we can prove businesses, consumers, residents and tourists have done right here in Warren County.

How do we know everyone else is getting by with less?

The proof is that sales tax revenues are down. Yet while everyone else is making sacrifices and cutting back, Warren County spent more in 2009 than in 2008 and you’re proposing to spend even more again in 2010. You’ve actually been spending more than you took in for quite some time relying on the fund balance to hide this pattern of overspending.

And to those who give us the excuse that government cannot be run like a business. We say it’s not that it can’t. It’s that you won’t. I’ve seen public officials run their operations like a business improving services and lowering taxes - - so yes it can be done.

For instance, the Washington County Board of Supervisors has adopted a budget that includes a 2-day unpaid furlough for its employees. Supervisor Sokol has publicly estimated that doing this in Warren County could save you millions of dollars in 2010. If you haven’t been able to get your unions to agree, perhaps you need better negotiators like they’ve had in Washington County.

But I must tell you that what is most disturbing to the Chamber about the decline in sales tax revenue is that this also means that businesses are struggling. Their sales are down. Their revenues are down. As a result, they’ve had to make cuts. This in turn has meant that more people in this region are unemployed. So they’re income is down too. It’s a vicious cycle and one we that need to reverse. Higher taxes will not help. They’ll make our descent into this cycle worse. To help our economy recover, you should be doing everything possible to motivate people to buy local.

The fact is that New York’s property tax burden is 49% higher than the national average. New York’s combined state and local sales tax burden is also 39% higher than the national average. In other words, a higher sales tax has never resulted in lower property taxes in New York or vice versa. The reality is the two just keep going up and up and up in counties across New York State to fuel more and more and more government spending.

Now I could go on and on and list fact after fact to make this case and to demonstrate the folly of your tax and spend 2010 budget plan. But instead, I want to conclude my comments tonight focusing on your plans to use revenue from a proposed sales tax increase to balance the 2010 budget.

You’ve been told that you can’t count on legislative support for this excessive tax increase. Luckily both Senator Little and Assemblywoman Sayward understand the negative repercussions of raising the sales tax in this economic climate. While Senator Little and Assemblywoman Sayward are obligated to file the bill on your behalf, there is no guarantee it will pass. It may not even have their support. It may not make it out of committee. With the State Senate seemingly unable to do anything, it may never make it to the Governor’s desk. And with the Governor in a cutting mood during an election year, he might not sign it into law. So you’ve got an uphill battle and one you may not win.

And for what its worth, the Chamber will seek out others who agree with us to lobby all the way along this path to oppose the passage of this bill. We will not sit back. We will not be silent. We will not let you do harm to our local economy.

So I ask - - isn’t there a reasonable doubt that you’ll ever get this money to spend? Is it fiscally responsible to pass a budget that relies on such an insecure funding source? Doesn’t it make more sense to reduce expenses NOW and IF or WHEN revenues increase to then reinstate those non-essential programs you might temporarily shut down or to reinstate pay raises that might be temporarily put on hold or to plow that new found money into the fund balance to improve your credit rating?

In this budget, you are yet again spending money you don’t have. You’re building a budget that relies on money that you can’t assume will be available. That’s the classic definition of overspending. It’s not right. It will hurt the economy. You have other options. You don’t need to design a camel when all we need is a work horse. Cut expenses. Don’t pass this budget as is.