In my previous legislative column, I referred to New York's Medicaid program as the "Godzilla of Mandates," because it reigns supreme over Albany's endless river of rules, regulations and red tape that act as major cost drivers for counties, towns, cities, villages and school districts. For example, New York's federal, state and local Medicaid mandate spending is actually greater than the Medicaid budgets of Florida, Texas and North Carolina combined. Realizing this, you can quickly see how the state budget deficit has ballooned to a staggering $10 billion.
HITTING THE BRAKES ON ALBANY MANDATES
Folks, it is time to hit the brakes on Albany's cost drivers, also known as "unfunded mandates." Whenever Albany forces local governments to do something - and does not provide any funding to pay for it - the expense typically passes from localities directly onto homeowners in the form of higher property taxes. Don't take my word for it: look at your most recent property tax bill. See the section that refers to "state mandates?" That is a picture-perfect example of the Albany mandate-local property tax increase connection.
"BIG BROTHER" ALBANY DOES NOT KNOW BEST!
One question I frequently hear is "If mandates from Albany hurt local governments and lead to higher property taxes, why does this continue?" Great question! Unfunded mandates keep happening because of an "Albany knows best" mentality that is, sadly, part of the culture at the State Capitol. However, Albany does not know best - how could it? How could some bureaucrat working hundreds of miles away in Albany know what is best for the folks back in Canandaigua, Auburn, or Honeoye Falls? They can't. Nevertheless, that doesn't stop state government from trying… and trying… and trying to impose costly solutions from afar.
LOCAL PROBLEMS NEED LOCAL ANSWERS
Having served in local government, I know that local problems need local answers, not pie-in the-sky programs or quick fixes imposed from Albany (or Washington D.C.) that do little to address the problems. In fact, all those government "solutions" usually end up doing is making the problems much worse - and more expensive. Whether it is dealing with traffic congestion, administering paperwork for school districts, or issuing a business permit, homegrown solutions usually present the best opportunity for cost effective, practical problem solving.
This is the case I made last week when meeting with Ontario County Mayors to discuss my continued call for mandate relief from Albany. I spoke with 90 different local elected officials representing school districts, county, town and village governments all across our community. Their message was universal: state mandates have driven up their costs dramatically and, unless something is done to control these cost drivers from Albany, local governments and taxpayers will continue to suffer.
NINE MANDATES FROM ALBANY, A BILLION HEADACHES FOR LOCALITIES
According to the New York State Association of Counties (NYSAC), nearly $4.4 billion was raised through county property taxes collected outside of New York City during 2010. NYSAC estimates that, of the $4.4 billion collected, nine specific state mandates consumed $4 billion, or 90 percent of those taxes. Those nine mandates are as follows:
Medicaid - $7 billion ($2.2 billion outside of NYC);
Public Assistance/Safety Net - $1 billion local tax impact;
Child Welfare protect/prevention - $800 million local tax impact;
Pre-School Special Education - $420 million local tax impact;
Indigent Defense - $300 million local tax impact;
Probation - $340 million local tax impact;
Early Intervention - $185 million local tax impact;
Youth Detention - $84 million local tax impact; and
Pensions - $600 million local tax impact.
Factoring New York City into the mix, mandate-driven costs actually exceed $10 billion annually. New York's mandate that counties must help fund Medicaid - along with the eight other major mandates imposed by the state - are the single-largest contributing factors for all county property tax levies. NYSAC indicated that for many counties, these mandates consume well over 100 percent of their tax levy. The New York State Conference of Mayors and Municipal Officials (NYCOM) also have made controlling Albany mandates a top legislative priority for 2011 in order to provide true cost relief for overburdened municipalities.
ROBBING PETER TO PAY PAUL
What this means is that the majority of revenue generated via local property tax collections is not going toward addressing local needs. Instead, the funds are used to pay for programs, policies and services dictated and demanded by Albany. It's like robbing Peter to pay Paul - only in this case, Peter is local government and big brother Paul is Albany. Doesn't seem fair, does it?
IF ALBANY WANTS SOMETHING, IT SHOULD PAY FOR IT!
Instead of passing its expenses onto local governments, Albany must put the brakes on mandates. If state government wants a program expanded, or a new policy implemented, then it should pay for it because the buck must stop with Albany! As I've said before, it is not nearly enough to just cap property taxes - we need to cut them. However, delivering real property tax relief can't happen until we stop all the unfunded mandates imposed by state government onto localities.
As always, constituents wishing to discuss this topic, or any other state-related matter should contact my district office at (315) 781-2030, or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow me on Facebook and Twitter for the latest news and informational updates regarding state government and our Assembly Minority Conference.