Five Lehigh County commissioners could not get one more of their colleagues to join them in overriding the county executive’s proposed 2013 budget Wednesday night.
It all came down to a battle over $1.5 million.
The five, all Republicans, wanted to cut the budget by $5 million.
Four others, two Democrats and two Republicans, supported County Executive William Hansell’s revised budget that cuts spending by $3.5 million.
On Oct. 24, by a 5-4 vote, commissioners passed a $107.5 million budget that cut spending by $5 million. Hansell made good on his immediate threat to veto that budget.
On Wednesday, the five who voted for that budget needed one more vote for a 6-3 “super-majority” to override Hansell’s veto.
They didn’t get it.
“I’m delighted,” said Hansell immediately after his version of the budget was upheld. “It’s a win for bi-partisanship, a win for compromise, and very much in the best interests of the citizens of Lehigh County.”
No matter which side had won, one result is the same for county residents: they will pay an average of $44 less per household in county taxes in 2013.
“There is a tax cut,” said Hansell. He promised commissioners: “We will make significant cuts. We will make tax reductions that will be permanent. And the spending for 2013 will be less than what was budgeted for 2012.”
In fact, while now legally required to cut only $3.5 million from the 2013 budget, Hansell promised commissioners he intends to find a total of $7.8 million in cuts to address the county’s deficit.
Wednesday’s outcome was a foregone conclusion, because all nine commissioners had made their positions known in previous votes and discussions. But the unsuccessful votes attempting to override Hansell’s veto were not taken until the budget again was debated by commissioners, residents and a few county officials for nearly two hours.
Both sides were encouraged to change their positions, without success.
The five Republicans supporting a $5 million cut were Tom Creighton, Vic Mazziotti, Scott Ott, Lisa Scheller and Michael Schware.
“We need to vote tonight to override the executive’s veto,” said Schware. “Anything less is selling the taxpayers short and selling the taxpayers out.”
Commissioners supporting Hansell’s $3.5 million in cuts were Republicans Percy Dougherty and Brad Osborne and Democrats David Jones and Dan McCarthy.
Osborne said Hansell is stopping year after year of spending increases in county budgets by requiring that spending in 2013 is $3.5 million less than in 2012.
He also said the executive’s budget specifically spells out where those cuts will be made, without sacrificing the quality of critical services provided to county residents.
Osborne said Hansell’s budget was achieved in the manner residents want to see from their elected officials: “collaboration between two branches of government to benefit all the citizens.”
Hansell told commissioners his proposal is a bi-partisan budget “that reflects the values of all of you. I listened to every one of you.”
But Mazziotti shot holes in claims of bi-partisanship and working together. He said the five commissioners who want $5 million in cuts were excluded from the process that led to Hansell’s revised budget and were not even told a press conference was scheduled to announce that agreement. “If that’s bi-partisanship, I want nothing to do with that.”
Jim Martin, who introduced himself as the county’s elected Republican district attorney, challenged his five fellow Republicans to support Hansell’s budget, to make it a unanimous vote.
Martin said citizens, both in the county and across the nation, now want politicians “to work across the aisle, collaborate and reach consensus.”
He said the five commissioners who oppose Hansell’s budget “have accomplished 70 percent of what you set out to do -- $3.5 million in spending cuts. I think that is a significant victory.
“You ought to be satisfied with that compromise. That would be a statesmanlike thing to do. To do otherwise is just ‘I didn’t get my way so I’m going to vote against it.’ In my judgment, that’s not good politics and it’s not good Republican politics.”