The Art of the Deal in Rockland

If you are befuddled by national politics these days, take a close look at Rockland County’s 2017 budget battle. It may enlighten you. The back and forth of the budget approval process is a microcosm of a familiar ethos; “I’ll give you this, but only if you give me that.” In this case, lack of funding for a collection of beloved Rockland County nonprofits is linked to the stalled sale of a crumbling building in New City. Two entirely unrelated issues, right? Enter the Art of the Deal.

When elected, County Executive Ed Day promised to reduce spending, honor a property tax cap and whittle away at the substantial deficit inherited when he was elected in 2013. Last September, he proposed a $674 million budget for 2017 that, according to Day, keeps those promises.

But Day’s budget axed $1.3 million in funding to 32 nonprofits including Childcare Resources of Rockland County, Cornell Cooperative Extension, Association for the Visually Impaired and Arts Council of Rockland to name just a few.

In December, the Rockland County Legislature voted to restore funding to the affected nonprofits. Day then vetoed that action saying the County can’t spend money it doesn’t have. Next the Legislature cobbled together a plan partially funding the 32 nonprofits for half a year with unused funds left in legislative accounts from 2016. The plan was approved in a 10 to 4 vote with Lon Hofstein, R-New City; Patrick Moroney, R-Pearl River; Vincent Tyer, R-Pearl River; and Christopher Carey, R-Bardonia voting against. Day has promised not to veto the Legislature’s plan, but the nonprofits will be scrambling again in six months to ensure their funding.

Day presented another option, however, that could make all this penny pinching go away; allow the long delayed sale of the decrepit Sain building in New City to go through. A developer has offered the County $4.5 million for the building. Funds from the sale would be used to pay down Rockland’s deficit, and plans to build senior housing on the site would add to Rockland’s tax base – possibly even provide long term funding for the nonprofits under threat.

It’s unclear exactly why the Sain sale has been delayed for so long. There have been issues with paperwork, and some in the Legislature question if due diligence has been done by the County. There has only been one bidder for the building, and some think the County can get a better deal, although the fact that $4 million from the proposed sale was figured into the 2016 budget approved by the Legislature last year suggests that everyone wants, and expects, this sale to go through.

So what’s the problem?

It appears the Legislature doesn’t want to be strong-armed into the Sain sale by Day, even if it means taking the heat for leaving some nonprofits in the lurch. Legislature Chairman Alden Wolfe has referred to Day’s “ ‘my way, or the highway’ mentality,” saying that if Day doesn’t get exactly what he wants, “he will not support other options arrived at through discussion and consensus.”

This may be true, but with the exception of people truly concerned about the threatened nonprofits, Day is looking pretty good to taxpayers. He appears to be in support of a $4.5 million deal that could reduce the deficit, add to the tax base and possibly provide long term funding for the nonprofits. With all these good intentions being thwarted by petty infighting, it’s a wonder Day doesn’t just throw up his tiny hands in frustration.

Oh wait, it’s POTUS with the tiny hands. But the playbook is the same; use your political muscle to link two unrelated complicated issues, and then make your opposition look obstructionist and silly when it doesn’t comply. It’s political strong-arming, but it’s a good way to get re-elected. Day’s term is up at the end of this year.