Why Did You Vote Against Budget?

Beacon legislators explain opposition

By Jeff Simms

Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro on Dec. 14 signed the $503 million budget sent to him by the Legislature, which passed it 19-5. Both legislators who represent Beacon, Frits Zernike and Nick Page, voted no. They were joined by Kris Munn (Red Hook), Rebecca Edwards (Poughkeepsie) and Joel Tyner (Staatsburg).

Molinaro vetoed only one amendment sent to him by the Legislature: He restored $40,000 to the county parks department budget to expand a summer concert series at Bowdoin Park in Poughkeepsie. He left intact an amendment introduced by Page that funds a $9,400 feasibility study for ferry service between Dutchess and Orange counties.

We asked the Beacon legislators why they voted no. Their responses have been edited for brevity.

Frits Zernike

Frits Zernike

One example stands out as emblematic of why I felt compelled to vote no. Kris Munn offered an amendment that would have provided funds to hire full-time temps to take up the overtime slack at the jail. Right now the county employs part-time officers and relies on overtime. This means correctional officers are working to the point where the job becomes riskier for them and the inmates.

In addition, the jail has had to cut staffing for things like accompanying volunteers into the jail who provide classes on topics such as resume writing and creative writing, which can serve a therapeutic purpose for inmates. Without an officer there, the volunteers cannot do what they do. The rules don’t allow it. Relieving the staffing problem is also necessary to provide medically assisted therapy for inmates struggling with addiction.

Legislator Munn’s proposal was met with scorn, the argument being that, sure, it’d be nice to have full-time temps, but it’s impossible to find them. Kris pointed out that if the positions went unfilled, the funds wouldn’t be spent. So if the county couldn’t fill the positions, no money would be lost. Nevertheless, it was voted down.

That encapsulates what’s wrong with this budget. It’s fundamentally mean-spirited, and it lacks any kind of vision for how to think differently. While it’s nice that the administration worked to incorporate amendments from the minority side of the Legislature, and I can understand several of my colleagues’ wish to reward such efforts with a “yes” vote, there’s a lot more room for improvement.

Nick Page

Nick Page

It’s frustrating when the lack of coherent vision is combined with a resistance to a considered suggestion. The staffing crisis at the jail is a perfect example. It’s been ongoing for years and the administration says nothing can be done.

Another example is the Climate Smart Community program. Getting Dutchess County registered as a Climate Smart Community was an early priority for our caucus. The program is the conduit for state funding. In preparing the resolution that begins the process, we found that a similar resolution had gone through in the 2008/9 session but was never sent to Albany, so Dutchess County was never enrolled. Because the email was never sent, the county missed out on millions of dollars in state funding.

Now we are enrolled, and, after six months of prodding, the county has set up a volunteer task force co-chaired by Steve MacAvery, who is chair of the oft-ignored county Environmental Management Council. He will not be compensated. Brad Barclay, of the county Planning Department, will also be on the committee as part of his salaried position.

I pushed a budget amendment that would add a full-time Climate Smart Coordinator chair to planning for $75,000 annually plus benefits. It went down in committee by a 7-5 vote along party lines. With the appropriate attention, we could gain significant funding that could be used to stimulate and shape the green economy and make Dutchess a model, not a sometimes-reactionary straggler. There is no sense of urgency or vision.

The bag ban [which the Legislature passed but without a 10-cent surcharge on reusable plastic or paper bags] is similar. It’s a small issue but, like all things, should be done right. The majority and administration proved immune to piles of evidence from around the globe and pushed through the more easily digestible and superficially palatable bag ban as opposed to adding a tiny fee which has been shown to make all the difference environmentally while being an insignificant financial burden. What good is a government that is unresponsive to fact? It seems to me to be a laziness and indifference born out of local political stasis and limited, if any, public accountability.

7 thoughts on “Why Did You Vote Against Budget?

  1. Banning plastic bags in Dutchess County passed without adding a fee. Why add a fee? If there are no plastic bags available, why would you want to charge people a 10-cent fee to buy plastic bags? Isn’t that self-defeating? The environmentalists have been preaching for years for plastic-bag elimination. OK, it is now law. So, again, why on earth would you want to have stores sell plastic bags? Another tax/fee that is not needed. Also, from what I read, the fee would be waived for some people (seniors, low-income, etc.) Isn’t that discriminatory? Who makes that decision? A checkout clerk. You got your plastic bag ban. Be happy and stop trying to find another tax/fee to add to the burden of hard-working residents.

    • I myself was wondering about this. What is the point of a tax/fee for plastic bags, if they are too be banned? Maybe there is a more detailed explanation of the defeated proposal — some bags to be banned and other types to have fees added?

      In my mind a tax/fee for plastic bags — and for similar plastic items such as straws and plastic beverage or food containers — *might* be sensible if these revenues were to stay local (within each town or municipality) and to be used solely for clean up off of our streets, sidewalks, drain gutters, trees, parks, beaches, etc., of said items locally.

      The fee could be partially waived for biodegradable, deposit/return or recyclable plastic items. Plastics, and relatedly pollution and littering, due to imperative to maximum profit, and due to personal alienation and general social irresponsibility (probably the same phenomenon), are clearly out of control. Not just anything, but the right thing, must be done. More work, explanation, argument, and discussion is necessary.

      • We should have provided more context to avoid confusion. The law will ban the use of single-use plastic bags. Two amendments were introduced but defeated that would have allowed retailers to charge 5 or 10 cents for every recyclable paper, plastic or compostable bag they provided to customers who don’t bring their own bags.

        • The implication is that Dutchess County retailers are currently not allowed to charge a per-bag fee. If that is truly the case, it’s surprising to me. Charging a per-bag fee would provide a price signal, to those not excluded from it, to reduce the use of these bags — and to reuse bags as much as possible. And this would indirectly reduce the amount of plastic litter (and associated chemicals) in the environment, some of which possibly gets into our food chain.

          One issue then would be such a fee would not give any price signal to those excluded from it. Another is that not everyone responds to price signals. A further issue is that if it is not mandatory, those retailers not charging the fee would be at a disadvantage to those who do.

          Ideally some or all of any fee would go towards countywide cleanups of litter, existing and recurring, even if that means the retailers themselves use or donate these fee monies for this purpose.

  2. The budget was passed by the majority of our county legislature, members who’ve lived and worked in Dutchess County long enough to understand its finest intricacies and biggest issues facing their constituents. The no votes against this budget do not represent Beacon, they represent elected officials beholden to a political establishment. Most important, they do not serve the residents of Beacon well, specifically the most marginalized, the youth, and the pearls of wisdom that are our most valuable resources.

  3. Basing the fee or tax for plastic bags, straws, etc. on the cost of their immediate clean up / disposal locally, as Frank Haggerty has suggested in his comment, is reasonable but too limited in scope. More reasonable would be to include costs not borne locally that are nevertheless reflective of the overall costs. This is extraordinarily difficult to do. What is the cost, in dollars and cents, of oceanic plastic patches, or of plastic litter blowing through the countryside rather than the city, and what infinitesimal fraction is rightly apportionable to given a plastic bag involved in a Target run? Incredibly difficult.

    That said, the virtue of a market economy is the equilibrium between supply and demand in light of cost. As an intellectual exercise, the true cost of plastic bags is not reflected in the price paid by the merchant, and indirectly paid by the consumer. Because it’s off the merchant’s books, and so off ours. Not directly reflected on anyone’s income statement, really. In the absence of a more appropriate price signal, the tendency is to overconsume them. So while I don’t fundamentally disagree, I do think the scope is too limited. I simultaneously have to cop to not knowing what the right number would be, however. Frankly, it might be 10 cents is not too much. The costs are pretty high. If you, dear reader, understand all of this, then you understand how a carbon tax would function.

  4. Beacon’s legislators were elected by a majority of Beacon residents, regularly communicate with us and most certainly represent me and I agree with their points and votes.