Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his administration had their budget proposal spin machine operating at full speed last week when it came to claims about how this spending plan would help local governments.
A key state expenditure that counties were looking for was money for the 62 locally funded elections boards to implement the voting reforms that had been adopted by the Legislature at the start of the week. Although Cuomo had put $7 million in such a fund in his previous budget proposal, there was no such dedicated state aid in this year's plan.
The explanation? Nothing but spin.
First, the Cuomo administration officials say consolidating the federal and state primaries will save money, although their claims that $25 million will be secured from that are questionable. While some savings are certain, don't forget that primaries are much cheaper to run than a general election. And one additional proposal the governor is making, to expand hours for upstate primary voting, will have to take away from some of that savings. (For the record, though, we support primary hour expansion so every voter in New York state has the same level of access to the polling place.)
As a funding source for election reforms, the governor's also pointing to a proposal to begin taxing sales for purchases New Yorkers make online with companies in and outside the state. He says some of the money generated from that change would flow back to the counties and help with the added costs of implementing early voting and other new measures.
That argument is even more dubious. First, something as important to the operation of government as voting should not be subject to the volatile nature of sales tax revenues. Second, the people who would pay that extra sales tax on internet purchases are New York residents, so the governor is ultimately attempting to raise taxes to pay for the election reforms — something he vowed would not happen.
The reforms to the voting system that will become law are positive steps forward for New York state, but they must not become the latest unfunded mandate on local governments, which already are limited by the state in what they can budget. The Legislature needs to do its job of being a check on the executive branch and insisting that the state commits to directly helping counties implement these changes.
The Citizen Editorial Board includes publisher Rob Forcey, managing editor Mike Dowd and executive editor Jeremy Boyer.