MAYVILLE - Well, that puts an end to that.
State Sen. Cathy Young, R-Olean, said Thursday that she is seeking a continuation of the county's current sales tax rate - not an increase.
The County Legislature had, during a meeting last week, voted 15 to 7 to ask Albany for a hike in the local rate. Their vote was the first of three steps required to change the sales tax.
The second step, having the request pass in Albany, required both Young and Assemblyman Andy Goodell, R-Jamestown, proposing the increase in both the Senate and Assembly, respectively.
Young said Thursday though that "a stand-alone sales tax increase for Chautauqua County has a zero percent chance of passing the state Senate."
As evidence, she cited the Senate majority's stand against any tax hikes.
"We stopped tax increases in this year's on-time state budget, and we are fighting for a property tax cap right now," she said. "I have introduced a bill that extends Chautauqua County's current local sales tax rate at 3.5 percent (above the state's 4 percent), and expect that it will pass the Senate before the end of session in June."
Majority Leader Larry Barmore, R-Gerry, said Thursday that he was sorry to hear the news from Young.
"At least we know where we stand and can start to make plans for what this will mean in next year's budget," he said.
Reached for comment after Young's announcement, Goodell said that, without a bill in the Senate, the Assembly won't even consider the idea.
"The real focus has to be on cutting the costs of government," he said. " And the state needs to play a more aggressive role, and I'm sure that that's a role Cathy and I are both on board on."
The county's sales tax rate is set to decrease to 7 percent from the current 7.5 percent on Dec. 1. County Executive Greg Edwards had proposed asking the state to take the rate to 8.25 percent. County legislators then amended his proposal, instead asking Young and Goodell to carry forward a request to increase the rate to a flat 8 percent. Young's proposal, if it passes the Senate and Assembly, will mean a continuation of the 7.5 rate rather than another drop for the county.
Minority Leader Rudy Mueller, D-Lakewood, was happy to hear the news Thursday - adding that he agrees taxes should not be raised.
He continued on to say that it's his belief the county should have again tried to "swap" the state the county's local portion of sales tax in exchange for Medicaid costs.
"How many times do I need to make this argument?" he questioned. "It forces us to reform the local government. If we just keep raising sales tax and getting more revenues in, we don't need to reform the local government. And if the state can just pass Medicaid costs onto the local taxpayers, they don't have to reform Medicaid."
Mueller had brought up the idea during the legislature's sales tax discussion last week, but said it didn't pass the body because legislators believed the state wouldn't pass it. He continued on to admit frustration Thursday, alleging that the majority went forward with their increase request though they knew it would fail.
"We couldn't carry the swap forward because the state wouldn't pass it? But then we vote for the 8 percent when we knew that she wouldn't carry that forward?" Mueller questioned. "We knew Cathy Young would not support a tax increase. I had multiple conversations with her and I got that message from her.
"The Republican leadership keeps telling the public things that just are not true," he continued, pointing to the recent reapportionment work. "We can't vote for a redistricting plan in May because it's too late, they say. But Monroe County can have a vote on May 10 for redistricting and they're a charter county with a 45-day permissive referendum. So somehow they can do it, but we can't. Our drop-dead day was the end of April. We couldn't work on redistricting starting in January because we had to wait until the numbers came out at the end of March, but Niagara County somehow could work on it? Why can Niagara County and Monroe County do these things and we can't?"