The residents of the state of New York pay the highest taxes in the nation. Our sales taxes are among the highest, and our property taxes are disproportionately higher than the national average. Upstate New York, in particular, bears a remarkably heavy tax burden due to Albany’s exceedingly generous and expensive Medicaid coverage, and our bloated public employee payrolls. The ratio of local government workers to population in upstate New York is more than 25% above the national average. New York’s Medicaid program costs more than that of Texas and California combined; each state has a larger population than New York. Erie County residents’ property taxes are 42% above the national average. The question isn’t whether we were unreasonable to demand that our sales tax remain at an already-bloated 8.25%, but why Erie County can’t make do with the generous tax revenue it already receives from us. What’s distressing is that Giambra lowered our property taxes by over 30% since 1999, but he used rainy day funds to cover the shortfall. Now that the tobacco money and surplus are exhausted, Giambra’s mismanagement is coming back to haunt him. Had he engaged in a more moderate, systematic, and thoughtful reform and downsizing of government, we’d be better off today. Had he kept property taxes about where they were and avoided dipping into the surplus, we’d be better off today. Had he been serious about competently managing Erie County, we’d be better off today. Instead, he steered us into an emergency situation that called for radical and drastic action. Raising the sales tax – a regressive tax that disproportionately hurts the poor more than the rich – was not the solution in this case. Because Giambra did not competently manage the county’s finances, and because he didn’t downsize and reform government before it became an emergency, many people were laid off and many services cut. While on a personal level, all of these layoffs and service cuts are regrettable and painful, they have finally prompted people throughout Western New York to look at their governments and tax burdens with a more critical eye, and demand that government fix its own house before it again comes around to the taxpayers with a cup in its hand. In fact, there is no need for county governments at all. These bloated, redundant, patronage-ridden entities double the state’s own sales tax, and perform services that could just as easily be performed by the state or localities. Massachusetts permitted counties to be abolished in 1997, and many did so. Massachusetts boasts a flat 5.25% income tax, a 5% sales tax, and lower property taxes than New York. Compared to New York, that’s plain dreamy. The duties that Massachusetts’ counties performed are now handled by the state or towns. We can do the same here. The State DOT can create regional entities to maintain roads and bridges. The locally elected officials like the clerk, sheriff, and DA could still be locally elected, but their staffs would be state employees. Parks would revert to the towns in which they are located, or to the state. Social services would be handled by local branches of state offices. There’s no need at all for county government. Let’s get rid of it, and the local sales tax surcharge.Update: Here's this week's article.
Last week, the Niagara Falls Reporter published an op-ed and a column, both of which were harshly critical of Erie County's refusal to pass Giambra's penny. Here's what I wrote in response to Croisdale's column: