MAYVILLE - The County Legislature may have taken the first step toward increasing the local sales tax rate, but will it fly in Albany?
Maybe yes, maybe no.
Lawmakers spent a lot of time debating the issue last week, but the final decision is not yet theirs
Majority Leader Larry Barmore, R-Gerry, discusses the sales tax issue during the legislature’s recent April business meeting.
P-J photo by Nicholas L. Dean
Early on in discussions of the issue, Republican legislators said that, for anything to even be considered, a request must be made immediately and it must have strong bipartisan support.
However, even Majority Leader Larry Barmore, R-Gerry, admitted that the chance of Albany approving such an increase looks slim.
The admission came after Keith Ahlstrom, D-Dunkirk, questioned whether Republicans had yet contacted the county's state representatives about supporting the request in Albany. To return to the legislature for final approval, both Cathy Young, R-Olean, and Andy Goodell, R-Jamestown, have to take the request to the state Senate and Assembly, respectively.
Goodell and Sen. Young were not reached for comment.
"I spoke with Mrs. Young," Barmore said. "She will carry it to Albany for us. However, the feeling in the Senate right now is not to approve these type of things. I understand they play politics in Albany just like they play politics in Mayville."
"So what that means, I don't know. I do know one thing though. If we don't send it (the request to increase the local sales tax rate), it has no chance whatsoever."
Barmore continued on to repeat the position that though no one wants to see taxes raised, not even Republican legislators, it might have to be done to save the bulk of the 2012 budget deficit from being put on property tax payers.
"I'm not in favor of raising taxes either," said Tom DeJoe, D-Brocton, "but we can't sit here and dog this out until we lose any opportunities."
DeJoe was one of only two Democrats who voted for the proposal, the other being Chuck Nazzaro, D-Jamestown. The request passed the legislature in a 15 to 7 vote, with all 13 members of the county's Republican caucus voting 'yes' in addition to DeJoe and Nazzaro. The resolution which passed, however, was not the 8.25 percent rate request proposed by County Executive Greg Edwards. The legislature amended the resolution to request a flat 8 percent sales tax rate as well as keep the "Hold Harmless," which Edwards proposed eliminating.
Prior to legislators casting their votes, Majority Leader Larry Barmore called for Democrats to support he measure - and not just vote against it "to try to make political hay."
He also said that, for Andy Goodell to carry the request to Albany, the Assemblyman said it needs to have bipartisan support at the county level.
"If we have 13 Republican votes to pass it on and no Democrat votes, he doesn't feel that the measure would pass," Barmore said. "So he would like to see bipartisan support. And as I told Mr. Mueller and Mrs. Cornell in leadership, there's some dirty work that needs to be done here. We'll all agree. We'll all sit here and agree that none of us want to raise taxes and none of us truly do, but the fact is, we're either going to go broke or we're going to raise some money. And if legislators want to sit back and say, 'No, I didn't vote for a tax increase' and allow the responsible legislators to do the dirty work, to do what has to be done... Well, they're more than capable of doing that. But the thing is, if we don't get bipartisan support, it probably won't pass in Albany."
The vote ultimately saw the support of only two Democrats, with the other seven present voting against it. Both Bob Duff, R-Sheridan, and Vickeye James, D-Jamestown, were absent from the meeting. Independence Party member Scot Stutzman, of Jamestown, left the meeting shortly after it started for a family emergency.
Prior to the vote, Ahlstrom said he disagreed with Barmore about the bipartisan support - saying that regardless of how many Democrats support the proposal, Republicans and the administration would still lobby the county's local state officials.
"I don't think that a vote tonight against it is as imperative as legislator Barmore has led us to believe, that this has to have bipartisan support," Ahlstrom said. "If this legislation gets passed tonight, I would imagine that the county executive and Republican legislators, whether there's one, two or three Democrats who vote in favor of it, will lobby our state officials to bring it."