Pension costs are a massive expense for municipalities that continues to rise every year. Next year Erie County’s pension obligation totals $40 million, and although it is a significant cost, we have a responsibility to pay this bill. In more than 170 municipalities across the state, pension costs has become too much to bear and elected officials chose to defer pension payments to manage their annual budgets. However, Erie County stood out as a model of excellence, meeting its obligation in full with cash each year. I credit the diligence of my colleagues in the Legislature’s Minority Caucus and the former administration for fighting against wasteful spending and implementing reform that has allowed Erie County to be in a fiscally sound position, allowing it to pay its obligations.
Unfortunately, the current county executive and the majority of the Legislature do not share the same priorities as I do. At the Nov. 21 session of the Legislature, the Democratic Caucus voted in favor of the County Executive’s plan to enroll Erie County into the New York State Employer Contribution Stabilization Program, which will push $8.6 million in pension cost obligations into the future, carrying with it the probability of significant interest costs.
Deferring on pension payments is just kicking the can down the road. I strongly oppose this plan and instead believe the Legislature needs to close that $8.6 million gap through responsible spending cuts. Putting the county at risk of spending a lot more in the long run is completely unnecessary. My colleagues and I in the Minority Caucus put forward an amendment package that would have cut $8.6 million from the proposed 2014 budget, allowing the county to pay next year’s entire pension obligation with cash.
We have a responsibility to the taxpayers, to be mindful with their money. At a time when the decision is whether to defer obligations or take care of business today, we need to make the tough decisions to avoid placing today’s burden on future taxpayers. Our amendment package called for cutting newly proposed jobs and reducing fringe benefits which were once again overestimated by this administration. These were wasteful spending additions that contributed to putting Erie County in a position that could have far reaching implications.
Our duty is to formulate a smart budget, not just for next year but for years to come. I was incredibly disappointed that the Democratic members of the Legislature’s budget committee refused to consider the amendments, denying them from even being discussed by the Legislature at its annual budget meeting. Their actions have precluded our thoughtful budget amendments from consideration. This is un-democratic and disrespectful of Erie County taxpayers.
While I don’t agree with the approach taken by the County Executive or the Majority of the Legislature, I am pleased for the taxpayers’ sake that the 2014 budget will hold the line on taxes. The critical services that residents depend on have been adequately funded in next year’s budget.
If you have any questions about the 2014 budget, please contact my office at 858-8676 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.