Testimony at the Westchester County Board 12-19-05

Richard J. Garfunkel

 December 19, 2005

 Testimony at the Westchester Board of County Legislators Chambers:

Good Morning-

My name is Richard J. Garfunkel, a life-long resident of Westchester County, now residing in Tarrytown, NY.

 I have had the pleasure of working in politics and government, along with my wife Linda, who was an administrative assistant to Congressman Richard L. Ottinger from 1974-81, from 1969 through my role as campaign manager for Greenburgh Supervisor Paul Feiner in and during this past election cycle. In fact, I was the campaign manager for my good friend Marty Rogowsky when he ran for the Assembly in 1976.

 I come here this morning to voice my opposition to the proposed salary increases for members of the County Board of Legislators. Generally speaking I am opposed to the growth of unnecessary spending in government. Recently, during the summer, we were all enlightened by a strong and detailed op-ed by Milton Hoffman, a former editor of the Gannet-Westchester chain regarding the expensive layering of both municipal and education districts. I advise all of you to read or re-read that excellent piece.

 Here in Westchester we face very high local taxes that are serving as a catalyst to dividing this county into the very rich and the very poor. Property taxes are driving more and more elderly away from their families, and also are creating an economic climate where young adult children cannot afford to move back into this county to be near their parents. In other words the “tax and spend” cycle continues unabated and is driving the cost of living skyward.

 I believe that if you raise your salaries, for basically a part-time position you will be sending the wrong signal to other public officials, both elected and appointed that they have a license to demand more and more. Where should this all end? Should it end with a taxpayer revolt that could force binding legislation to cap all increases? Will it drive more people and businesses from Westchester? Will it send a signal that no one in office really cares except to feather his or her own nest? Each time you run for public office, you accept the current salary that is listed, as part of the job qualification. You have a choice not to and retroactive pay increases, reflective of the past, are non-existent in the private sector.

 Currently this legislature is one of the highest paid in New York and certainly one of the very highest in any county around these United States. If your record on cost containment was stellar, if tax increases were moderate and in line with inflation, if Playland Park was operating in the black, if the County Hospital was not a money pit, if traffic congestion and pollution wasn’t becoming onerous and a threat to the quality of life, if school taxes weren’t the highest in the nation, if duplication of service wasn’t rife, if we had affordable housing for seniors, young adults, civil servants and municipal workers I would say you deserve what you

Are being paid today. But unfortunately the record and responsibility of this Board has not reflected that.

 In the memory of the late William Proxmire, one of our greatest legislators on the national level, start looking for the “golden fleece” that abounds in Westchester, and start making government more efficient and responsible. Democrats should not be the party of “tax and spend”, but the party of innovation, and efficiency. Currently we are in an era of $500 billion Federal deficits, an $8 trillion National Debt and the cut back of more and more essential services that impact on the lives of the average citizen. It is time for the Democratic Party to show its leadership in being more concerned with the average citizen then rationalizing pay increases that rival the “private sector.” If you feel that you cannot devote the time without the added compensation retire. As president Truman famously stated, “If you can stand the heat in the kitchen, get out.” Also he said “The buck stops here.” Please stop passing the buck!

 I would take an example from Supervisor Paul Feiner, and establish cost savings and innovative goals, which involve a myriad of examples. I would promise to give back part of my salary, as he has done, if these goals have not been achieved. Government is a “public trust” not a business career of high salaries, benefits, perks for showing up and hidden compensation for doing one’s job. Look in the mirror and reflect are these incredible increases justified and will they send the wrong signal to the rest of the public sector that there is no cost containment in government.

 RJ Garfunkel   

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