For Republican State Sen. Greg Ball of Patterson, the Southeast stop of his legislative road show began and ended off-script.
For starters, when the senator arrived shortly before 7:30—the Southeast Town Board’s appointed hour to convene Thursday evening—he was forced to join staff and a rapidly growing number of constituents confined to the lobby. Closed doors denied everyone access to the John Dunford Civic Center auditorium, where the town board sat sequestered in an unscheduled, apparently unannounced executive session.
Fifteen minutes later, the doors abruptly opened and moments later Ball was standing in the well before the town board and more than three-dozen residents, delivering his second town hall review of his first season in the New York State Senate.
In a brisk, 15-minute summary, Ball displayed both a polished speaking style and professional title cards, each highlighting a range of topics, among them the property-tax cap, MTA payroll tax and mandate relief.
As Congress wrestled last Thursday with raising limits on the nation’s borrowing, Ball opened by observing, “I never thought that Washington, D.C., would make Albany look good.”
He called the property-tax cap, which limits the amount local governments and school districts can increase their principal income source, a “promise made, promise delivered.” The cap has been widely hailed by homeowners and others but assailed by some local elected officials and educators. Acknowledging the criticism, Ball said, “Are there problems? Yes,” and he asked town board members to “let me know what they are.”
Ball predicted repeal of another unpopular levy, the MTA payroll tax. Part of a 2009 bailout package for the transit system in lieu of sharp cuts in service and increases in fares, it imposes a tax of 34 cents per $100 of payroll in New York City and nearby counties to bring in $1.3 billion of the authority’s $12 billion budget. Outgoing MTA chief Jay Walder, who cut both services and jobs in his two-year tenure, has done a good job, Ball said.
When it came to providing relief from unfunded and underfunded mandates—the expenditures the state requires local governments to make without providing reimbursement—the legislature fell short, Ball acknowledged. “We didn’t do enough,” he said, “no doubt about it.” While Ball had earlier called Democrat Andrew Cuomo “a very competent governor,” he derided a panel the governor established to find ways to cut the mandates, saying it was “set up ... to avoid making tough decisions.”
By enacting the property-tax cap, however, “we are forcing the issue on unfunded mandates,” he said.
Ball’s final unscripted moment of the evening brought a clash of conservative Republican insurgents, both of whom had mounted primary challenges to establishment candidates last fall. Reading from what he described as Ball campaign literature, Neil Di Carlo questioned the senator’s vote to renew the Putnam County sales tax. “You said you would vote for it only if government spending was cut, said Di Carlo, who lost his congressional primary bid. “I want to know why you did it.”
After a couple of false starts, Ball, a victor in his challenge, said, “That’s a very good question.” Drawing a distinction between hiking a tax and keeping it in place, Ball said, “It was an extension ... I would not have supported an increase in the sales tax.” He said that county officials were committed to stabilizing spending and that failing to extend the sales levy would have increased property taxes.
The stop in Southeast was Ball’s second of a tour scheduled to visit all 22 towns in his 40th Senate District.