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December 10, 2010
In Case You Missed It – From Today’s NY Post
December 9, 2010

By Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino

If state and local governments are ever to get their budget deficits under control, they absolutely must address spending. The issue here is simply one of affordability.

Westchester County has a skilled and dedicated work force that provides quality service 365 days a year. Unfortunately, the county can no longer afford it. It’s too expensive — in large measure because of union-contract-dictated health-care and pension packages that are beyond the wildest dreams of private-sector workers.

Next year, the average cost of a Westchester County worker will be $117,000. The scariest part is that fringe benefits — mostly health care and pension costs — will come in at 55 percent of salary. In contrast, the cost of fringe benefits for UAW workers at General Motors before the company went bankrupt was 37 percent of salary. Is there any business in America — or any level of government — that can stay in business with these kinds of costs?

Faced with this unsustainable expense spiral, only one choice remains if you take gimmicks and one-shots off the table: Workers must agree to become cheaper — or there will have to be fewer of them.

Let’s be clear: More revenue (that is, taxes) won’t solve the problem. Westchester already has had the dubious distinction of having the highest property taxes in America for three years in a row — 2007-09. Taxes just can’t be raised fast enough to keep up with ever-escalating spending, propelled largely by union-contract wage hikes, step increases, longevity payments, free health care, sick-day cash outs, vacation-day carryovers, pension expenses and retirement benefits for our 5,000-plus current employees and roughly 4,000 retirees.

Economic realities dictate that we adapt or perish. Our governments and their unions can take their medicine, make fundamental reforms to their cost structures by cutting expenses, and in so doing build more attractive places for people and businesses to live and operate. Or they can hold on to the status quo, chase fantasy revenues and watch the steady decline of their communities as people and businesses vote with their feet.

Long-shot gubernatorial candidate Jimmie McMillan became an overnight sensation this fall with his “rent is too damn high” chant. Here’s mine. It may not be as catchy, but its truth is unimpeachable: Government spending is too damn high.

Robert P. Astorino is the Westchester County executive.


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