Jobs, Spending And Taxes: The Budget Report Card

Legislative Column by Assemblyman Steve McLaughlin (R,C-Melrose)
February 10, 2011
Over the last week, I have reviewed Governor Andrew Cuomoís 2011-2012 executive budget, a budget that offers spending reductions and other recommendations in its 1,000-plus pages to cut a projected $10 billion deficit. I also am carefully reviewing all proposals within the state budget that would have a direct impact on our district. There will be much more debate on the budget in the coming weeks, but I would like to highlight three areas of concern to Upstate.

The governor has put out a very broad economic development plan to spur job growth across New York. One of these actions calls for refocusing economic development efforts through regional decision-making in an effort to reform, redesign, and recalibrate a poor business model. By working with local business leaders this development strategy would foster healthy competition and attract new investments in jobs. New Yorkís overall economic development strategy must change in order to gain a competitive edge in national and global markets. Job growth was my top priority and continues to be in Albany.

The executive budget would establish 10 regional economic development entities to foster a regional approach to economic development funding. I share Governor Cuomoís vision of engaging local stakeholders on economic development strategies, allowing them to develop long-term strategies to strengthen our local economies from the bottom up instead of using the top-down method Albany has used to stifle innovation and development for years. I will be a strong advocate for bringing one of the Regional Economic Councils to SUNY Albany.

Addressing spending is not an easy task, but looking holistically at the executive budget, there are opportunities for responsible reductions in spending that will not negatively affect our local growth. The governorís Mandate Relief Redesign Team appears to be a foundation for improved efficiency and potential savings. The team will explore ways to lift the burden of expensive state requirements on our local governments and schools. One of its first proposals is included in the executive budget: encouraging school districts to seek waivers from onerous mandates that no longer make sense - a first step toward local repeal of specific statewide requirements.

My wife is a teacher in Lansingburgh, and she understands how these mandates affect our local school districts and their budgets. Our teachers are still struggling to make sure there are enough resources in the classroom for our children; they donít need additional expenses dictated by Albany. The Mandate Relief Redesign Team is only a starting point in addressing these costly and ineffective mandates.

I believe Governor Cuomo should have gone even further and made incentivizing recurring savings in local government a cornerstone of mandate relief. What our government built has failed us, and we have an opportunity for making a stronger, healthier, and leaner Albany that would better serve our local governments. Letís open up the system to improvement and reward creativity instead of funding complacency.

I ran for this office on the principle that I would vote against any tax or fee increase on taxpayers and small businesses. Albany cannot continue to blindside the public with costly hidden fees and surcharges that largely go unnoticed in the budget language. A responsible state budget will look at each and every possibility available to reduce spending before raising revenue through higher taxes and fees.

The governor and I are in agreement that New York is in dire need of a statewide property tax cap. I fully support the executive budgetís proposal of implementing a cap because itís what the public wants, and Albany needs to get into the habit of reacting to public concerns and needs. Enough of the special interests; letís try taxpayer interests for a change. Now is the time to pass a property tax cap.

I will be sponsoring legislation that would call for a property tax cap to be set at 2 percent, or the rate of inflation, whichever is lower. Along with that, my legislation also will include a way to eliminate unfunded state mandates. Albany cannot bring relief to taxpayers just with a cap; mandate relief needs to be addressed as well.

In the coming weeks, I will be working closely with my colleagues to focus on areas of concern such as jobs, spending and taxes. Itís time for a state budget that works for Upstate.