Sunday, December 30, 2007

Dare We Make His Principled Stand Meaningless?

It is reported that Mayor Duffy won't sign an agreement with Monroe County to guarantee the City's receipt of money to fully compensate it for loss of revenue due to the sales tax intercept plan.   City News describes this as  "... a $50-million stand on principle."

Duffy says he realizes it's a high-stakes stand -- one that could cost the city about $50 million if the county chooses to cut the city out of the sales-tax pie altogether.

"My belief is you stand by your principles," he says.  "You disagree with something, you do it.  You take a chance on incurring other pain elsewhere."

In response, the County attorney says that if a municipality declines to sign an agreement, the County will send the money anyway:   "If they didn't want it, they could return it."

The County attorney's response is unacceptable.   It leaves County taxpayers (which includes all City taxpayers) wide open to a big hit.

There needs to be an agreement between the County and each municipality with which it plans to share revenue pursuant to FAIR.   That agreement should state that if the municipality takes the money, it agrees not to sue the County over the intercept.   Without an agreement like this, a municipality could (1) take the money offered, then (2) turn around and sue the County to overturn the intercept plan.   If the lawsuit succeeded, it would force distribution to the municipality of County sales tax revenue equal to the amount already paid to the municipality.   If effect, the municipality would get a double-dip.

Could this be the real principle involved in the Mayor's refusal to sign?

That would be out of character for Mayor Duffy, and, to date, the City has not joined the litigation to overturn Brooks's FAIR plan.   But it could do so at any time -- even after it receives payment to compensate for the loss of sales tax revenue under FAIR, thereby setting itself up for the double-dip.   The County, and especially the County Attorney, can't seriously be suggesting that the County just go ahead and pay $50 million without protecting against this possibility.

The County has lived up to its commitment and its moral obligation to the City by offering it $50 million (to offset a $50 million loss of revenue from sales tax receipts).   When the FAIR plan was enacted, the agreements were part of the deal as a condition for getting the money.   To turn down one is to turn down both.

The $50 million offered to the City is more than enough to make the school districts whole for their $29 million loss under the FAIR Plan.   Our suggestion is this:   offer the the money to the City, tied to an agreement, once more, just so no one can say you didn't try.   If the Mayor refuses again, give the schools their $29 million.   Put the balance in reserve to hold down future tax increases, or turn it back to taxpayers immediately by reducing the county property tax.

Mayor Duffy has taken a stand on principle.

We're reminded of the quip by cartoonist Jules Feiffer:
"Christ died for our sins.  Dare we make his martyrdom meaningless by not committing them?"


repoman said...

Clearly, if the City recieves the money and does not return it, the "principled stand" is little more than posturing.

You have exposed an interesting issue, however. The Mayor says he won't sign ("on principle"). But can he refuse the money? Should any elected governmental executive turn down vital resources due his/her constituents?

And, what about the County? What is the theory behind giving the money to a municipality that won't sign the agreement?

If the Mayor was going to "stand on principle", why didn't he do it at the beginning of the saga and join in with the School Districts in suing the County?

Of course, the Mayor's position could be connected to his veto on the Rural/Metro contract. Perhaps he has opted for a policy of meaningless and cost-free stands on principle to "prove" that he (unlike Maggie Brooks?) is an independent, principled guy who is beholden to no party or ideology.

Philbrick said...

Thanks for comment, Repoman.

The Mayor didn't say anything about refusing the money. He refused an agreement regarding the money.

Our point is that the County can't responsibly pay the money without a signed agreement in hand.

scape32 said...

Quite frankly, I, too, was a little confused by the Mayor's stance on the 50 mil offer from the County.

I always believed that from the days of the Morin-Ryan era, relative to the County-City revenue sharing agreements, the redistribution of wealth from suburban taxpayers to the City was rationalized as a way to provide parity to City taxpayers who provided central municipal services and tax free public and not-for-profit institutional lands for area-wide use of those services and lands by taxpayers living outside the City taxing jurisdiction.

Another less legally sound and palatable reason for revenue redistribution was the fact that the City had a disproportionate share of the region's poor folks and low tax yielding properties, aging infra-structures and central city job commuter traffic that taxed services like police and parking.

OK, I've always thought the former rational was more acceptable and legally sound.

On the other hand, I've always asked the question: What if the tables were to turn, let's say because of the accomplishment of something like Johnson's Renaissance Vision ( what ever happen to that, anyway?)?

Or such an economic collapse blew in that the gas-heavy space-burdened suburban life-style became unsupportable many suburbanites couldn't continue to afford disproportionately sharing scarce public funds with another jurisdiction. The City might actually be far better able and situated to absorb the effect of such an economic collaspe.

I only offer these thoughts to highlight the fact that it is the County who collects the tax, and as a creature of the State, as is the City, they can distribute it anyway that the State allows.

Seems to me that fact gives them a lot of leverage short of making political changes at the Albany level.