Only two legislative days remain in the 2011 Session as this column is being composed, so next week’s edition will contain a detailed wrap-up highlighting the accomplishments from this year’s session, while listing any unfinished business needing completion. The subject of this week’s column is the issue of unfunded mandates – and my groundbreaking legislation that would give local governments, school districts and taxpayers real relief from Albany’s cost drivers.
Over the past year, I have been meeting with countless local elected officials, school board members and taxpayers, listening to their concerns about what state government could do to stop hurting and start helping. During my meetings, I have consistently heard the same powerful message: we need REAL RELIEF from Albany’s unfunded mandates, fiscal irresponsibility and mandated programs like Medicaid, along with rising health care, payroll and pension obligations. These budget-busting cost drivers are bankrupting localities, school districts and taxpayers – and threatening New York’s long-term financial future.
These concerns are much more than an “issue” to me: as a former local elected official, I know firsthand the fiscal devastation caused by Albany’s “pass-the-buck” mentality. This is why I am proud to announce my introduction of the most comprehensive unfunded mandate relief legislation ever advanced by a Legislative Leader in state government: the “Taxpayer Protection and Mandate Relief Act,” Assembly Bill A.8447. This initiative would significantly address Albany’s cost drivers and restore fiscal sanity to state government.
TAXPAYER PROTECTION & MANDATE RELIEF ACT: THE “GAME CHANGER” LOCALITIES, SCHOOL DISTRICTS & TAXPAYERS HAVE WAITED FOR
The Taxpayer Protection and Mandate Relief Act is the most sweeping initiative of its kind brought forward during this, or any other, Legislative Session in recent memory. If you are a regular reader of my columns, you already know that I have been leading the fight to address Albany’s unfunded mandates – the bureaucratic rules, regulations and requirements that state government imposes on local governments and school districts that significantly drive up costs. The unfunded mandate costs end up being passed on to local taxpayers who pick up the tab in the form of higher property taxes.
The legislation I introduced would provide a moratorium on new unfunded mandates for as long as a property tax cap is in place; freeze County Medicaid costs; give the Governor and state Legislature the power to repeal existing unfunded mandates; enact comprehensive pension reform; and enact many other positive changes. Here are some specific provisions of the Taxpayer Protection and Mandate Relief Act:
SUSPEND & REMOVE ALBANY’S UNFUNDED MANDATES
• Prohibit any new unfunded mandates on local governments and school districts for as long as a property tax cap is in place;
• Require “fiscal notes” – specific language making it clear what a piece of legislation’s financial impact is – on bills affecting local governments;
• Establish a process for the Governor to annually submit to the state Legislature a plan to repeal unfunded mandates. Also, require the state Legislature to vote on the plan within 60 days of its submission, with or without amendments;
RESTORE FISCAL RESTRAINT TO STATE GOVERNMENT
• Cap state spending to the average rate of inflation of the three previous calendar years and increase the maximum capacity of the state’s Rainy Day Fund from three percent to 10 percent of General Fund spending. If a spending cap had been in place over the past decade, spending would have been $30 billion less this year;
REDUCE PUBLIC PENSION & PAYROLL OBLIGATIONS
• Establish a defined contribution retirement plan for all new public employees and teachers, who join a New York State or New York City Retirement System;
• Allow local governments to opt out of the provisions of the Triborough Amendment, which allows for step-increases during periods of expired contracts and removes the incentive for public employee unions to renegotiate contracts;
REIN IN MEDICAID MANDATES
• Allow counties to opt out of providing optional Medicaid services to new enrollees. Also, require the State Commissioner of Health to apply for a federal waiver to implement this provision;
• Freeze the municipal share of Medicaid costs at the current level;
ADDRESS HEALTH CARE COSTS
• Increase the state tax credit allowed for the premium paid for long-term care insurance from 20 to 50 percent;
• Allow health savings accounts, which are low rate-high deductible plans with catastrophic coverage. These plans are currently prohibited under New York State Law;
• Require all public employees to make minimum health care contributions (10 percent for individuals, 25 percent for families);
CUT THE EXPENSE OF LOCAL CONSTRUCTION PROJECTS
• Remove prevailing wage requirements on municipal construction projects with a total anticipated cost of less than $500,000;
• Repeal the state law that extended applicability of the prevailing wage law to private sector third parties contracting out work for a public entity;
• Grant counties a local option to not follow sections 240 and 241 of the State Labor Law (Scaffold Act) and be subject to a contributory negligence standard;
• Repeal the WICKS Law, a state mandate that significantly drives up construction costs for localities and school districts by requiring separate plumbing, heating, ventilation, air conditioning and electrical contracts for certain projects;
• Allow contractors to submit bids that do not include project labor agreements;
PROVIDE RELIEF FROM STATE ADMINISTRATIVE & PAPERWORK REQUIREMENTS:
• Allow for regional school district employee collective bargaining through BOCES;
• Require the State Commissioner of Education to reduce onerous paperwork requirements and allow the electronic submission of reports;
• Authorize school districts and the State Commissioner of Education to determine when Academic Intervention Services (AIS) are redundant;
• Discontinue the cost of fingerprinting from collective bargaining agreements with teacher unions;
• Require all professional development plans to be designed by the State Education Department. Also, allow school districts to create development and mentoring plans once every three years, rather than on a yearly basis; and
• Require building inspections once every three years as opposed to annually.
The Taxpayer Protection and Mandate Relief Act represents the first, serious step toward delivering real relief from Albany’s unfunded mandates and would save billions by significantly reducing cost drivers for local governments, school districts and taxpayers. This legislation should mark the start of a much-needed adult conversation about dealing with Albany’s unfunded mandates, reining in entitlement programs like Medicaid, and putting the brakes on major cost drivers like health care and pensions. If enacted, the legislation I advanced will reduce Albany’s crushing burden on taxpayers and finally make good on the promise of a state government that is helping, not hurting.
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 email@example.com.