Regionalism advocate Kevin Gaughan is proposing that town and village governing boards be forced to take steps toward downsizing themselves before receiving any of the estimated $25 billion over two years that New York is expected to reap from the federal stimulus package.
"Giving local politicians stimulus funds without forcing change is like letting auto execs fly private planes or bankers give million-dollar bonuses with taxpayer money," Gaughan said in a prepared statement Tuesday as he made his case in a letter to Gov. David A. Paterson. "It rewards politicians' bad behavior at the expense of the people."
Most of New York State's share of the federal stimulus package will be earmarked for health care and education. But local officials have compiled a long list of projects they would like included, from $7.5 million for the new Darwin Martin House in Buffalo to $3 million for infrastructure improvements to Angola Airport, $3 million to develop roadway and install sewer improvements at the Clarence Industrial Park and up to $229 million for Amherst to improve sanitary sewers, drainage and supply lines.
Gaughan, known regionally for his efforts to get local spending and taxes -- among the nation's highest -- under control, has been trying to rally public support for the downsizing of town and village boards as a step toward consolidating local governments.
He has had setbacks, though, such as the Amherst Town Board's recent vote against asking the public whether the board should shrink from seven to five members -- despite strong public support for such a referendum.
Gaughan is preparing to launch a petition drive that would require local elected officials to allow votes on downsizing.
The stimulus funds will "rise to intense competition among New York's towns and villages for access to this once-in-a-lifetime boost," Gaughan said in his letter to Paterson. "And your office will possess a level of discretion in determining where and when these funds are spent throughout the state."