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Guest Column: State Sen. Tom O'Mara
"Living up to a promise on mandate relief"
ALBANY, Aug. 18 -- On January 5, 2011, at the very beginning of his administration, New York’s newly installed governor, Andrew Cuomo, issued an executive order creating a task force charged with finding ways to eliminate unfunded and underfunded state mandates on localities and school districts.
As part of the announcement, the governor touted the initiative this way: “Families as well as businesses are leaving New York because they can no longer afford to be here. These unfunded and underfunded mandates are one reason why taxes are so high, and this new Mandate Relief Redesign Team will begin a top-to-bottom review of the system to help bring needed relief to taxpayers.”
This early promise by the governor to deliver mandate relief was the driving force behind the subsequent enactment, just weeks later, of the 2% local property tax cap.
Hard to believe, but all of that took place nearly four years ago.
Several weeks ago in Corning, I stood with a group of local officials, business leaders and other organizations, including Unshackle Upstate and the New York State School Boards Association, to once again highlight the state’s failure to enact the comprehensive mandate relief that was promised in 2011 to accompany the property tax cap and, most importantly, to make the tax cap as effective as possible for local property taxpayers.
And that’s the fundamental point: without the promised mandate relief the property tax cap simply will not deliver the scope of property tax relief that’s needed, especially Upstate.
That was the purpose of the gathering I attended in Corning in late June, to keep sending the message that promised mandate relief hasn’t been delivered. Or as Corning City Manager Mark Ryckman put it, “The time for change is long overdue. We need our government to stop the continued shift of costs to local governments.”
It’s a straightforward responsibility, in my view. Governor Cuomo pushed the No. 1 priority of his administration in 2011 -- the local property tax cap -- with a promise to localities and school districts to roll back the heavy burden of unfunded state mandates. There have been some important mandate relief actions since 2011, including long-term pension reform and the takeover of the growth in local Medicaid costs. These actions have been significant, but not enough to mark a true transformation of the state-local partnership – or a truly meaningful change for Upstate New York’s local property taxpayers.
Most recently, a decision by the Cuomo administration impacting upcoming tax cap calculations will permit localities and school districts to receive credit for tax savings achieved through shared services and consolidations going back to 2012. Many localities, including more than a few across the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes where shared services have been a staple of local government for many years prior to 2012, argue that they should be given credit for all of these past efficiency efforts. I agree.
The fact is we still have a long way to go to lift the existing burden of state mandates on local governments and local property taxpayers. I’ve sponsored legislation, for example, to immediately put an end to any future unfunded state mandates. This legislation proposes a straightforward first step. It says that the state will no longer pass the buck to counties, cities, town, villages or school districts. If the state mandates a program or a service, the state should pay for it. That would be one common sense beginning to reform. I’ve also co-sponsored legislation, together with area Assemblymen Phil Palmesano and Chris Friend, to fully eliminate the local share of the cost of Medicaid, which counties have long identified as the most devastating unfunded mandate of all.
Nearly four years after it was highlighted as a state priority, mandate relief remains a state commitment that’s gone unfulfilled. Localities, school districts and local property taxpayers still have their hands tied – and their budgets busted -- by too many unfunded state mandates.
It’s a crushing burden. It’s unfair. And it’s largely been a broken promise. Not nearly enough has been achieved since 2011 to once and for all shake off the state’s habit of shifting the burden of unfunded mandates and other costs onto the backs of local property taxpayers. Governor Cuomo never said the goal in 2011 was to cap local property taxes and walk away. The goal was a future defined by property tax cuts. But for that to ever take place requires a true turnaround in private-sector economic growth -- and no more unfunded state mandates.
Upstate citizens, counties, school districts, manufacturers, small businesses and industries across the board are overburdened with far too many unnecessary state mandates, rules and regulations. Looking ahead to the next legislative session, it’s time to get rid of the costly red tape that keeps the Upstate economy going nowhere, keeps New York’s business climate one of the worst in America and keeps weighing down far too many property taxpayers.
Photo in text: State Senator Tom O'Mara
Schuyler County Officials
Top row (from left): Dennis Fagan, Jim Howell, Michael Lausell, Van Harp
Bottom row: Tom Gifford, Barbara Halpin, Phil Barnes, Stewart Field.
Dennis Fagan, Tyrone 607-292-3687
Thomas M. Gifford, 535-9517
Barbara Halpin, 594-3683
Phil Barnes, Watkins Glen, 481-0482
Stewart Field, Watkins Glen, 535-2335
County Clerk: Linda Compton, 535-8133
Sheriff: William Yessman, 535-8222
Undersheriff: Breck Spaulding, 535-8222
County Treasurer: Gary Whyman, 535-8181
District Attorney: Joseph Fazzary, 535-8383
State, Federal Officials for Schuyler County
Sen. Charles E. Schumer
United States Senate
Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand
United States Senate
State Senator Tom O'Mara -- Chemung, Schuyler, Steuben, Yates, western Tompkins, Enfield, Ithaca (Town and City), Newfield, Ulysses(Trumansburg)
Room 812, Legislative Office Building
Assemblyman Phil Palmesano--
Steuben, Schuyler, Yates
P.O. Box 365
Odessa, New York 14869