VALLEY - State Senate Republicans are taking their "no new taxes" pledge too far in blocking counties from increasing their sales tax rates. In this, Albany is micromanaging local government business, and blindly. Where's the home rule?
The state officials making this blanket decree do not know county finances better than the locals; nor are they trying to uphold any statewide standard. Sales tax rates in New York are different in every county: The state takes its 4 percent, and county rates vary. Up here, Franklin County takes 4 percent while Essex takes 3.75. Essex has been trying in recent years to raise its sales tax to 4 percent, but the state Legislature and Gov. Andrew Cuomo are blocking that effort. Why? What's so special about the rates now that they must be preserved? They're random, not systematic. The only reason Franklin County got its increase and Essex didn't is because Franklin got it when the getting was good.
This is part of a squeeze play that actually increases property taxes, which are inherently less fair than sales taxes because they aren't based on one's ability to pay. State lawmakers have already established a cap on how much local governments can raise their property taxes and yet keep mandating that these governments to provide expensive services and employee benefits. If Essex County could have raised its sales tax rate as requested, it wouldn't have hiked its property taxes 10.5 percent and laid off 10 workers this year.
If state lawmakers want to curb sales tax hikes, they should consider requiring a referendum for each one. That would make things more democratic rather than less.
MOUNTAIN - Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill into law recently that supports transparency in government by requiring local government to make available, upon request, records scheduled to be discussed at an upcoming open meeting. This legislation isn't particularly strong - it doesn't require them to post these documents online, for example, and contains a "to the extent practicable" clause - but it does give each of us more access than we have now to documents that we, the people, own. Full openness of government should be the general rule, with only rare exceptions. People shouldn't have to take no for an answer from the gatekeepers of public information.
MOUNTAIN - to two new blogs on the Enterprise website. Rick Burdt started his Right of Center Thursday with an introductory entry; expect him to dive into current political issues soon from a political angle that runs counter to John Stack's Left of Center, which he's written for several years now. For too long - since Jim McCulley stopped contributing - Left of Center has been the only political opinion blog on the site. We didn't want that imbalance; it was because no one like Mr. Burdt stepped forward to do one - until now. It's long overdue. We also like Mr. Burdt's stated commitment to no name-calling and to backing up his opinions with valid sources.
Meanwhile, our staff writer Chris Morris has picked up where Nathan Brown left off, starting a blog he calls News Notebook for items perhaps not important enough for a published story but still worth mentioning.
Check them out on www.adirondackdailyenterprise.com.