Thursday, December 10, 2009

Media Manipulates Mandates

The Democrat and Chronicle took a shot Tuesday at deceiving the public on the central reality of the County budget.

That reality is that Monroe County, like every other county in New York, doesn't have control over most of its budget.   That spending is dictated by the State -- the infamous "mandates."   Monroe characterizes 81% of its budget as mandated spending.

That's true.   That 81% includes grant money that is "mandated" in the sense that it must be used for a stated purpose, once obtained. Mandates those are, if not the kind of mandates that should trouble us as much as others, since these don't require spending local tax revenues.

Yet, even counties that don't count such funded, grant-directed spending as "mandated" report mandates accounting for half or more of their budgets:   Erie County at 54%; Onandaga at 52%.   A tremendous proportion of each county's budget, and of its local tax burden.

As we pointed out recently, this is a reality that allows the minority party in every county -- whether Republican or Democratic -- to take the regulation-issue, intellectually dishonest cheap shot at the governing party for "spending too much," or for "fiscal irresponsibility."

To be sure, the D&C article included comment from Kent Gardner, who as head of the Center for Governmental Research has studied mandates, that he has no problem with the way County Executive Brooks and her administration characterize the problem.   "The core message, I completely agree with ...," Gardner commented.

Still, leave it to the D&C to attempt to create doubt about this key fact of life for county government, which explains much, if not all, of the budgetary problem this county faces.   Leave it to the paper to do it the morning of the vote on the County budget.   Leave it to them to let all the threads of their story hang, instead of resolving them in the only honest way:   that even if we count as "mandates" only those dictated programs the state forces local taxpayers to pay, it still accounts for more than half the entire budget.   Still a whopping problem, and another colossal failure of State -- not county -- policy.

Anything to undermine public officials who belong to the wrong party.

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