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Local Government Can Teach Washington Fiscal Commonsense

Op-Ed from Senior Councilman Anthony J. Santino. Poor federal fiscal management shrinks paychecks, hurts families.

By Senior Councilman Anthony J. Santino

Take a look at your paycheck. You’ll find more than a few bucks missing – and you have Congress and the President to thank.

The federal government’s continued dysfunction, especially when it comes to negotiating a workable, bipartisan fiscal policy serves as a reliable model for many states and local municipalities of “what not to do.”  Regardless of political party or ideology, this unfortunate condition has plagued both the executive and legislative branches of the Federal government for some time.  This needs to change – Washington can learn something from local government.

The Town of Hempstead is a good place for Washington to begin broadening its outlook.  Hempstead Town is far from the “small town, moms and apple pie” image the word “town” evokes for most Americans.  Rather, Hempstead is America’s largest township with well-over 800,000 residents – a population larger than five U.S. states and the cities of Miami, Denver, and Boston.

Despite our size, Hempstead is committed to a rigid discipline of commonsense fiscal policies, prudent budget practices, carefully planning for expenditures, having the fortitude to make necessary sacrifices, and best of all, paying off its debt. As a result, the Town of Hempstead earns annual recognition for achievements such as holding the line on taxes and consistently saving money for a rainy day.  In fact, for 2013, the town is collecting less money in taxes than it did the previous year.

Washington is the ultimate contrast; it’s a place where “midnight deals” are slapped together by professional politicians.  And no one ever hears of, let alone remembers, collecting fewer federal taxes.

While the media hailed the recent deal on the fiscal cliff, the bargain is breathtaking only in how unremarkable it actually is.  At best, minimal compromise was achieved.

Congress took the easy way out by kicking the can down the road.  Our federal elected officials struck a deal that affects working families and seniors by yanking an extra $1,000 a year for every $50,000 earned from our pocketbooks.

Yes, Washington’s incapacity for compromise hurts every taxpayer and senior. Senators and Congressmen like to state their noble intention of preserving Social Security and Medicare – two extremely valuable federal programs that assist countless numbers of neighbors – as what guided them in drafting and passing this grand bill to avoid the fiscal cliff.  However, they just delayed making a decision.

And further increasing taxpayer suffering in these uneasy economic times, Congress, by shuffling and maneuvering the federal balance books, extended the whole debt ceiling drama by less than two months. Yes. The whole mess is gearing to erupt, all over again.

It’s time our federal officials – Senators, Representatives and the President – started to look beyond their jaded capital skyline toward state and local governments that are succeeding in overcoming avoidable stalemates and pointless partisan politics. We no longer have the luxury to allow the federal government to go blameless when sidestepping their responsibility to reach agreements that aid and protect us.

Congress must stop being the nation’s model of “what not to do” and instead institute “what they should be doing,” by following the lead of local municipalities.  For example, Hempstead Town has contained expenses by reducing the town debt services costs for the fourth consecutive year; it’s down almost 15% in 2013 as compared to 2010.  Additionally, by instituting and adhering to best practices such as greater efficiency in hiring and allocating its labor force, total salary amounts in Hempstead Town are 1.2% lower than the previous year.

Congress can learn a thing or two right here about good government. After all, compared with the United States government’s first-ever credit decline, the Town of Hempstead maintains its AAA credit rating – the highest credit rating available, reaffirmed by Moody’s Investor Service as “reflect[ing] the town’s prudent fiscal management characterized by conservative budgeting practices, development by multi-year financial forecasts, and formal fund balance policies…"

Bolstering these top-notch credit ratings, Hempstead Town was again awarded the Excellence in Financial Reporting Award from the independent Government Finance Officers’ Association for the eighth consecutive year. The award, the group’s highest distinction, recognizes transparency, accountability, and honesty in financial reporting.

Hempstead Town has no doubt faced daunting economic challenges. Historically, we have resolved these by accepting no outcome other than prudent, bipartisan agreement centered on informed fiscal decisions that allow us to continually live within our means.

Congress must adopt this philosophy – it fosters good government and responsible fiscal policy.  And since it’s clear Washington can’t find solutions, it’s time we stand up and demand that they “go local.”

To paraphrase the legendary, late House Speaker, Tip O’Neill, who famously said, “All politics are local,” our federal government needs to learn that “all fiscal policy is local.”  It would serve Congress and our President well to seek fiscal solutions to their repeated cliffs and crises in ways used with great success by many of our nation’s municipal governments.

Just like the Town of Hempstead and other local counterparts, Congress needs to begin to take their responsibility as public servants seriously, and start delivering results for the very public who so graciously invited them to serve. 

Senior Councilman Anthony J. Santino is currently serving his fifth term on the Hempstead Town Board representing the Town of Hempstead’s 4th Council District, which includes the communities of Bay Park, Baldwin, East Rockaway, Harbor Isle, Hewlett, Hewlett Bay Park, Hewlett Harbor, Hewlett Neck, Island Park, Lynbrook, Oceanside, South Hempstead.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Mark Cohen January 31, 2013 at 04:36 AM
Stick to the topic, not your own personal rants. What does any of what you posted have to do with the federal government, Felix Procacci? While you are entitled to your own opinion, you are not entitled to your own facts. Nothing you have shared with us in these posts have anything to do with why Congress is intent on kicking the can down the road for my kids and grandkids to have to deal with. Your tenacity is commendable, but you have allowed your personal vendetta against Supervisor Kate Murray (and perhaps the entire town board) to morph you into the Town of Hempstead's version of New York City's Rafael Martínez, better known as a gadfly who got banned from City Hall. Google him if you don't know who he is. Tell me, sir, how does anything you rant about deal with the subject of this column? Are you trying to refute Moody's Investors Service's repeated AAA bond rating for the town and almost a decade of the Town being awarded the "Excellence in Financial Reporting Award" year-after-year with a bunch of links to random stories and a slapped together spreadsheet? Not even the comptroller's report you cite criticizes the budget at all. Newsday even said it holds the line on - and actually collects fewer - taxes. The point is very clear here in this op-ed. Recognized, verified and repeated fiscal excellence locally can lead others on different levels of govt down the right path. That's the bottom line. Not your tin-foil hat wild observations.
Brian January 31, 2013 at 05:15 AM
Mr. Santino, You are a god amongst men. I wish I could pat your back. Fortunately, it seems like you think highly enough of yourself already.
Felix Procacci January 31, 2013 at 11:08 AM
There is no vendetta or rant, there is the truth. The truth is that the Town wastes a great deal of money and Supervisor Murray supports some of that waste. When I first went to Town Hall in Aug 2010 to ask Supervisor Murray to reduce spending and help the environment by offering an email option, she said it was a great idea. 2.5 years later, Town residents are still receiving about 25 mailings per year. This costs the taxpayers millions of dollars and is environmentally unfriendly. Where is the email option Kate Murray liked so much? If the Town is so proud of its fiscal record, why isn't the AUDIT taxpayers pay for each year posted on the GFOA website (at no cost to the taxpayers). AAA rating doesn't mean fiscally responsible, it just means that the Town is willing and able to pay its' bills. The Town constantly boasts about its fiscally conservative record, but never wants to inform voters about actual costs. What I did in showing the 2003 to 2011 budget comparison is to show the rapid increase in spending in some departments. People understand these numbers because, for the most part, their budgets have not kept pace with government spending. The comptrollers report does speak to the the budget of the Animal Shelter. The Administrative Charge line item (about $3 million) is cited as unaccounted for money. No need to argue, just have the Town provide, to the public, the details of how this money is spent.
Chris Wendt January 31, 2013 at 11:18 AM
@ Mark Cohen...most residents of the Town share your positive feelings toward our elected officials. I am sure that accounts for the results at the polls on election day. As you indicated, the facts speak for themselves. (Readers should note that is was Senior Councilman Santino whose duty is was at a recent Town Board Meeting to issue a verbal warning to Mr. Procacci that Procacci's speaking time was about to expire; Procacci ignored the warning and the time limit, continued to yammer-on, and thus the Board cut off his mic in mid-sentence, and departed the room.)
Mark Cohen January 31, 2013 at 01:23 PM
@Chris Wendt: i appreciate your observation and agreement. And thank you for that added part about the recent board meeting - you make an excellent point. For @Felix Procacci to claim, especially in light of this, that "there is no vendetta or rant" is simply disingenuous and false. #axtogrind
Lorraine DeVita January 31, 2013 at 01:43 PM
- "dont question the methods just appreciate the results?" one single stone thrown into the pond sends ripples ... Felix keep throwing the stones- because what lies beneath that calm glassy TOH surface is a whole lot of ugly that will eventually be revealed for what it is.. Anyone remember David and Goliath? one well placed "Stone" was all it took.
Hilarity Jones January 31, 2013 at 02:16 PM
Chris, please remove your head from TOH politicials rear ends, your sucking up to your party politicians is really unbecoming. You say "most residents share positive feelings toward elected officials", that is a far stretch, and once again, one person taking it upon himself to speak for the masses. TOH is in dire need of fiscal revamping, and until the existing political infrastructure is changed, this can and will not happen. As Felix indicated to you numerous times, every other speaker at the Board Meeting was allowed to go beyond the alloted time without being stifled. He also provided the laws that are supposed to provide equality for all residents choosing to voice their concerns at these meetings, but you, as usual, choose to ignore this information in lieu of an attack on Felix and a partisan rant. I will use your words for this, as they would seem very fitting at this juncture, most readers of the Patch are completely disinterested in your self serving political rantings, your completely biased opinion toward a local government that is without question extremely suspect regarding transparency and looking to quell any dissent among the ranks. But most of all, the only one who cares what you think, and I know I speak for many, many people, is you. Put that in your pipe and smoke it. If you don't have one, there are 2 business' in your wonderful town where you can purchase one.
S.M. January 31, 2013 at 02:27 PM
I'm telling you Chris must have the printing/paper contract for Kate's "atta girl" mailings. What people are passionately venting about is that in a day and age where everyone is cutting back big time (my job included) the TOH continues to spend other people's money in a suspect way. Party affiliations aside, you cannot trust politicians. Don't be so gullible. You're better than that.
Chris Wendt January 31, 2013 at 04:04 PM
Rhetorical question, you know, for the heck of it. Has anyone ever read an opinion posted in a comment on Patch that was unbiased? Has anyone ever posted an unbiased opinion about anything, here on Patch? I wrote the following in my first blog on Patch: "Balance? In...any controversial issue where contending sides or opinions have to be weighed against one another, fairness rules. I do my level best to decide the fairness of an issue. Determining fairness is laden with my personal biases formed from experience, and generally leaves little or no room for “balance”, or the presentation of opinions contrary to what I have determined to be the proper and 'fair' final assessment of the matter." That accurate, true, and totally biased statement of my opinions still holds true today, in everything I write. Consider the old adage about the pot calling the kettle black, and think of me as an old black iron kettle, especially when you write about me being an old black iron kettle. If you listen carefully, you'll hear my response: "Yeah, so?"
Lorraine DeVita January 31, 2013 at 04:10 PM
Touche! lol.....
Erynn January 31, 2013 at 05:34 PM
I'm so sick of reading Felix Procacci's complaining about everything. Give it a rest dude. Let me guess, you think our estemmed president is doing everything right, while Kate Murray is the devil. I would love to hear what you have to say about Obama and his glamorous first lady (NOT) jetting off on vacation to every corner of the world at taxpayer expense. He didn't have to fly for 9 hours to make a speech this week. Kate Murray can't be a tenth as bad as Obama and all you do is complain. Why don't you complain about that corrupt fibber in chief we just elected and his thieving band of thugs we just elected and cut Kate Murray a break for once. When I see you do that then may be I can take you seriously, except you never will because you're full of crap and all the numbers abnd statistics in the world can't hide that fact.
Joe January 31, 2013 at 07:07 PM
Can't we just get along!
Yankee1996 January 31, 2013 at 07:36 PM
The Town is not funding an on-going war against terrorism, not funding the FBI/CIA/NSA and other essential federal government agencies. Now we can argue that the Federal Government is bloated or the the complete opposite, but it does not change the fact that Tony is clearly misguided. Comparing the Towns financial responsibilities to the federal governments is like comparing the size of an ant to a mule. A course of action the Town and the Federal Government can improve on is fiscal transparency. We hear all about the National Debt, but can one elected produce a bill (or a receipt)? The last US Prez to pay off the debt was Jackson. So the question is – who do we owe? Yes I know at least 1/3 is to China, but lets examine the debit and see what we can write off in fair value. The federal government should produce this receipt and make it available online. The Town should do the same. Produce a financial document that can be easily placed online and allow the resident to view who the town owes, who the town pays, what the FY starting dollar amount is and the ending date. Produce how much money is in the town’s reserves account, etc. It is wonderful that the Town has a AAA rating but that only means the Town is a safe place for banks to loan money too it has nothing to do with the day-to-day exchange of money and how the tax payers dollars are being spent. With that CM Santino – what steps will you take to make the town a leader in financial transparency?
EJ48 January 31, 2013 at 09:47 PM
For the second time in a month a nameless local politician has chosen to speak out on a matter within the purview of the federal government, this time taking the opportunity to also congratulate himself in a backhanded manner. Whether the congratulations are in order I will leave to those more fluent with the details than myself. I can however again inquire as to why he is trying to raise his minuscule public profile. As to his criticism of the reinstatement of the full OSDI tax, I would note that the reduction was part of a package of emergency measures designed to help prevent the Great Recession from becoming another Depression. Its continuation beyond December 31, 2012 had virtually no support on either side of the aisle. In fact one might say that its reinstatement was the most fiscally responsible action included in the package that was put together to avoid the misnamed and misconstrued “fiscal cliff”.
S.M. February 01, 2013 at 02:53 AM
Amen yankee
Mark Cohen February 01, 2013 at 04:00 AM
That's an interesting analysis, @Yankee, but there's no comparison town-federal responsibilities. Obviously there's completely different - if you didn't think so, you must be living under a rock. And transparency wasn't even a topic, but should be a priority of every level of government to accomplish. Your quest for more documentation is easily solved: budgets for governments are online. You just have to look for it.
Frank February 01, 2013 at 04:23 PM
Santino and Murray are the two biggest losers to grace Town Hall. how they maintain their offices is nothing short of a miracle. Town of Hempstead has experienced a business diaspora for the last 20 years; It has yet to come up with ways to ATTRACT business... However it does a great job CHASING AWAY business. BTW Mr. Santino, what's your great idea for Nassau Coliseum? Hmmm? Although you blast Procacci, the Shelter operates on a $7.1 million budget. Has 29 full time employees with 9 making over $100,000. Two PART-TIME veterinarians make $250,000 annually. A FULL-TIME VET in NY makes $60,000 on average. All this cash in the face of decreased services for ToH residents. It's a patronage mill... pure and simple. I rather take the Federal Gov't over any ToH crony anyday.
Tom Garrett February 01, 2013 at 06:25 PM
"It has yet to come up with ways to ATTRACT business..." Wrong, they certainly have, although they do have to bribe them...... http://www.tohida.org/
Thomas Nathan February 01, 2013 at 06:32 PM
@Tom The same thing is done at every level of government to attract dusiness. Whether it is a federal subsidy or favorable tax treatment, state or local deferrment of taxes, ever level is the same. Any business or you might as want to through in there sports team is the same.
Igwheet February 01, 2013 at 06:56 PM
TOWN OF HEMPSTEAD IMMUTABLE LAW OF POLITICS #1: IF someone who voices bitter complaints about Town of Hempstead officials uses specific facts and figures about the Town of Hempstead animal shelter's operations and budget to validate their claim, THEN you can be sure they are associated with the animal shelter and have a political ax to grind about their lack of benefit from the patronage mill they claim to detest.
Tom Garrett February 01, 2013 at 06:57 PM
@ Thomas Of course and I was only pointing out that the TOH does in fact have a mechanism in place to attract business with certain incentives not afforded to the average homeowner or small business owner willing to invest in their home or businesses. If what the author of the op-ed states is true, why the need?
Jon L. February 01, 2013 at 07:14 PM
What exactly is a Senior Councilman? I have seen this one thrown around and was wondering if it is just the guy who has been here longest or if there is some other legislative responsibility that comes with it?
Chris Wendt February 01, 2013 at 07:40 PM
Read all about it at http://toh.li/council-members/santino
Jon L. February 01, 2013 at 09:46 PM
Sorry Mr. Wendt, I was not questioning the Councilman's accolades. I was asking what distinguishes a Senior Councilman from the other Councilmembers? It was in no way a dig at CMbr Santino. I was wondering if it was something equivalent to Presiding Officer in the Legislature.
Frank February 01, 2013 at 10:02 PM
hahahaha. IDA? are you kidding me? OMG ROTFL... Yeah ok... Back to reality... IDA is a flop and any businessman or businesswoman will tell you... Thanks for the link... Haven't laughed that hard in a while.
Mark Cohen February 01, 2013 at 10:17 PM
@Jon L: i've been to a few town board meetings in my day, even pre-dating the Murray Administration. it was explained at two or three that "senior councilman" is equivalent to "majority leader." "presiding officer" is pretty much the same....but, they actually preside over meetings where in the town the supervisor does. if the balance ever switched, would assume Ms. Goosby would receive that title.
Jon L. February 01, 2013 at 10:55 PM
That is what I thought, does anyone know if there are specific duties associated with the title or is it ceremonial?
Frank February 05, 2013 at 07:26 PM
And to the pompadour Councilman, as of Today, US Congress is going to teach you how acting "holier than thou" will cost you greatly... By eliminating the Local Tax deduction. the hammer blow will be felt by all.
Igwheet February 06, 2013 at 12:52 PM
Frank, it sounds like you're happy about it. It also sounds like congress is going to teach a lesson to every voter who threw away their vote and economic security by voting for Obama. The hammer blow will be felt by all indeed. Except only half of us will deserve it.
Frank February 06, 2013 at 08:35 PM
@ igwheet. I never said I was happy about it. On the contrary, many people on LI (and other Blue States) will be screwed because of it. Home values will plumment forcing massive foreclosures; mass emigration off LI; Schools will be decimated; I only made the comment because SANTINO is such a TOOL and to go so far as to call out the government on how to manage its finances is hubris of the highest order. Instead of preaching, SANTINO should be begging anyone with cash to invest in the ToH so local public service would not be so wholly reliant on residential tax dollars. Bottom line: Invest in business that will support the tax roll.

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