Without question, the many accomplishments from our 2011 and 2012 Legislative Sessions already are going a long way toward powering New York’s economic recovery and turning the page on years of Albany’s gridlock and dysfunction. Closing $13.5 billion in budget deficits without raising broad-based taxes or fees, passing two consecutive on-time State Budgets that reduced spending, enacting the property tax cap, strengthening our investments in education, providing funding for safer roads and bridges, preventing cyber-bullying; all of these, and many more achievements, already are writing a new chapter for a better New York.
TURNING THE PAGE ON YEARS OF “GOVERNANCE BY CRISIS”
When you recall that throughout 2009 and 2010, New Yorkers were warned continually that our state was “out of money” and would not meet its obligations to school districts, failed to pay private sector contractors and even delayed processing tax refunds, the recent progress we have made looks even better! I publicly spoke out against the previous mindset of “governance by crisis” because I believed state government could do better – and I knew that hardworking taxpayers deserved better. Thankfully, we left the chaos and inefficiency of those years behind.
BETTER IS NOT GOOD ENOUGH – UNFUNDED MANDATES, NEED FOR MORE PRIVATE SECTOR JOBS MUST BE ADDRESSED
However, as accomplishment-heavy as the past two years have been – arguably the most successful Legislative Sessions in decades – more work remains. As I have said before and will continue saying: things in New York State are better, but “better” is not good enough! While we have made an excellent start at tackling long-standing challenges like late State Budgets and chronic overspending, we have not finished the job of fundamentally transforming state government and permanently transforming Albany’s political culture.
Two issues in particular must be addressed by the state Legislature: the continued need to deliver unfunded mandate relief for local governments, school districts and taxpayers, along with the urgency of creating more private sector jobs. Neither is necessarily a “new” challenge – I have been calling for action on both for the past several years. This column focuses on the first set of these challenges: delivering immediate unfunded mandate relief and protecting taxpayers. While we achieved a “down payment” on unfunded mandate relief – in the form of the state assuming the increased local share of Medicaid costs – during our 2012 session, more needs to be done.
UNFUNDED MANDATES HURT LOCAL GOVERNMENTS AND COST TAXPAYERS
Unfunded mandates occur whenever state government tells local governments and school districts to do something such as implementing a new program, expanding a service or even building a new school. State government tells localities what to and how to do it yet provides zero funding to pay for it, which is the essence of an unfunded mandate!
Albany’s continued failure to provide funding to help local governments and school districts comply with its wishes forces localities to either cut essential local services or raise property taxes to make up for the fiscal shortfall. Some localities have gone so deeply into debt that they could teeter on the brink of bankruptcy all because Albany’s unfunded mandates make it impossible for them to balance their budgets.
UNFUNDED MANDATES NEGATIVELY IMPACT LOCAL COMMUNITIES
The New York State Association of Counties (NYSAC) shares my concerns over the serious financial damage unfunded mandates are inflicting on our local communities. NYSAC makes an open-and-shut case for unfunded mandate relief on its new website www.mandaterelief.com:
- New York State’s unfunded mandates take local tax dollars out of local communities and limit their ability to provide local services;
- 90 cents of every county property tax dollar goes to Albany to fund state mandates;
- Local taxpayers send $7.3 billion in weekly installments to help fund the state’s Medicaid program;
- In 2012, counties and the City of New York will send more than $11.5 billion in local revenue to subsidize the state treasury; and
- In order to pay for state programs, counties across the State are reducing or eliminating long-term care services for seniors (including nursing homes), community health care centers, Meals on Wheels, local law enforcement activities, veterans services programs and other community-based services and programs.
NYSAC and I are on the same page: enacting unfunded mandate relief must be a top priority for Albany because it will help localities balance their budgets, reduce the need for future property tax increases and ensure that local tax dollars remain in local communities.
MY SMART SOLUTIONS FOR UNFUNDED MANDATE RELIEF
The following are some of my smart solutions for delivering unfunded mandate relief – each of these legislative proposals are non-partisan in nature and focus on stopping or suspending unfunded mandates and providing cost relief for local governments and school districts:
- Taxpayer Protection and Mandate Relief Act (Assembly Bill A.8447): Cap State spending and freeze the local share of Medicaid costs;
- New York State Mandate Relief for School Districts Act (Assembly Bill A.10446): Provide comprehensive mandate relief for school districts; ensure the retention of quality teachers, the discipline of tenured teachers and review of special education requirements; and
- Unfunded Mandate Moratorium (Assembly Bill A.4811): Enact a permanent moratorium on unfunded state mandates imposed on local governments and school districts costing more than $10,000 annually or $1 million statewide.
My smart solutions should be at the forefront of Albany’s agenda so we can continue all our progress by stopping unfunded mandates, protecting taxpayers and achieving a better New York.
NEXT WEEK: Part II of my focus on New York’s remaining challenges: fixing our economy, growing the private sector and creating more good-paying jobs!
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.