Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Picente's Tax Hits A Roadblock. A Roadblock Named Destito.

As I've mentioned before, Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente has been trying to push through a new sales tax hike for the county. He's been rather successful at selling it as a "tax cut", but the truth is that the County's elevated sales tax ends in November. Mr. Picente's "cut" is a new slightly lower tax that will take effect the day after the old one ends. In a development that, frankly, has me stunned, the only thing holding it up at this point is Democrat Roanne Destito.

Local sales taxes require approval of the state Legislature and the consent of the governor after a "home rule message" has been received from the local municipality. Such home rule requests must contain Senate and Assembly bill numbers.

Picente wants the .75 percent tax because it would generate an estimated $19 million next year. His proposal would reduce the total county sales tax to 4.75 percent, down from the current highest-in-the-state 5 percent. The local sales tax is in addition to the state’s 4 percent sales tax.

As of Tuesday, Sen. Joseph A. Griffo, R-47, Rome, is sponsoring such a measure in the Republican-controlled Senate. Griffo had previously said he would honor Picente’s request. However, there is no companion piece in the Assembly, where Democrats hold the majority. Support there is critical.

Picente has spoken with Assemblywoman RoAnn M. Destito, D-116, Rome, and members of her staff several times in recent weeks to enlist her support but has yet to receive a commitment from her to take the county’s request to the Assembly. Picente said he spoke with Destito’s chief of staff yesterday and again this morning.

If Ms. Destito is serious about not approving the tax she would be doing the people of Oneida County a great service. From all indications Mr. Picente has shown little or no interest in actually cutting the county's expenses, instead relying on a his new tax to increase the tax load on county residents to one of the highest levels in the country. Destito's refusal to support it could well force the local "Republicans" to take full ownership of the county's high taxes, since state Senator Joe Griffo's support for the tax is already assured. He is, after all, the guy that passed it the first time.

The levy that Picente wants to continue was enacted at Griffo’s request in 2005 when he was county executive and faced a substantial increase in the county’s share of the Medicaid program. He opted to hike the county sales tax by 1.5 percent rather than raise property taxes by nearly 50 percent. The tax has since been lowered to the current 1 percent.

Without this .75 percent tax next year, the county would have to "make up" money from other sources such as the property tax or reserves, or cuts in programs and services. A likely scenario would be a combination of items.

Picente knows half of loaf is not sufficient when it comes to lining up state approval to extend the county sales tax. "We’re halfway there, but it is not enough," Picente said Tuesday. "I need two numbers." He vowed to keep pressing Destito for her support.

In other words, Mr. Picente is shouting "I'll keep fighting for higher taxes!" to the heavens.

Sweet Jebus. I can't believe there isn't a Democrat out there that isn't salivating at the thought of taking Picente on this fall. Between his tax hike and obstinate refusal to take responsibility for Oneida County's continued dumping of sewage into the Mohawk River he's practically handing you a winning agenda.

There is, of course, the possibility that Ms. Destito plans to support the tax hike and is just holding out in order to gain leverage for her own plans for the Mohawk Valley Water Authority's expansion. Only the most cynical would believe that is what's actually going on.