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Guest Column: State Sen. Tom O'Mara

"Albany snapshot: mandate relief"

ALBANY, Jan. 16 -- Interested in a snapshot of some of the important issues being talked about at the Capitol? One way to do that is by scanning the titles of reports being issued from the advocacy groups whose goal it is, day in and day out, year after year, legislative session following legislative session, to set the agenda for New York State government.

For example, a quick rundown of currently accessible titles includes the following:
> ”Reforming the way we finance Medicaid will lead to taxpayer accountability” and “State Programs Funded by County Property Taxes” from the New York State Association of Counties (;
> ”You Can’t Cap What You Can’t Control” from the New York Conference of Mayors (; and
> ”The New 3 Rs: Reducing, Restructuring & Redesigning” from the New York State School Boards Association (

That’s just a short list but it’s a list that serves to highlight one challenge that’s going to dominate attention throughout this new legislative session: mandate relief. When Governor Cuomo unveils his 2012-2013 proposed state budget on Tuesday, a lot of local eyes will be reading to see if it includes specific actions to begin getting local governments and school districts out from under the burden of unfunded state mandates.

The Conference of Mayors once summed up the issue this way: “Local governments throughout our state are facing an imminent crisis that has been years in the making. Decades of arbitrary state mandates have accumulated to trump local control and fiscal logic. These mandates are
insatiable in their appetite for property taxes and, if left unchecked, threaten the sustainability of our local governments, communities and state. But in every crisis there is opportunity…”

Two forces are at play. There is no question that government at every level, including local government, is forced to recognize that overburdened taxpayers demand efficiency and cost effectiveness. At the same time in New York State, there’s an undeniable case being made that the ability of local governments and school districts to undertake restructuring initiatives have run into a currently immovable roadblock of state mandates. While I appreciate the belief that local governments must undertake the budget tightening that last year’s property tax cap imposes, it’s unrealistic for the state to keep believing that local governments can find a way to do it in the face of current state mandates. Indeed, Governor Cuomo in pushing the tax cap last year promised meaningful mandate relief would follow and that the cap would force it.

So this year, despite widespread and deep-rooted economic and fiscal challenges, there’s an opportunity to change course. We’ll all be reading Governor Cuomo’s proposed budget closely for what it might contain in the area of mandate relief. But I’ll also caution that in his recent State of the State message, the governor had very little to say on the topic, namely that “a government that works for the people must make a long-term commitment to fiscal discipline, and this means enacting mandate relief…the Joint Legislative Executive Mandate Relief Council, which will begin work this month, needs to hold public hearings to foster a robust public discussion…then issue a package of recommendations to be voted on this legislative session.”

State of the State messages traditionally serve as a general prologue of sorts for the more detailed budget documents to come. If that’s the case, we shouldn’t expect too much on mandate relief in Governor Cuomo’s proposed budget this week. Then again, this governor hasn’t been shy about
bold moves. His State of the State message called for an economic development program involving public/private partnerships totaling $25 billion, including, for example, constructing the country’s largest convention center and an energy superhighway.

So we’ve offered the Governor the following as one truly bold move for his budget: begin a state takeover of local Medicaid costs, the largest unfunded state mandate.

It would make a world of difference for local governments and local property taxpayers, to say nothing of the message it would send that New York State is truly serious about long-term, meaningful economic and fiscal reform and responsibility, common sense and security.

That we recognize a bold move when we see it – and are willing to take it.

Photo in text: State Senator Tom O'Mara


Schuyler County Officials

Legislature Members:

Top row (from left): Dennis Fagan, Thomas Gifford, Doris Karius, Glenn Larison

Bottom row: Michael A. Yuhasz, Barbara Halpin, Phil Barnes, Stewart Field


Legislature Chairman

Dennis Fagan, Tyrone 607-292-3687

Legislature Members:

Michael A. Yuhasz, 535-4967

Doris L. Karius, 546-5544

Barbara Halpin, 594-3683

Glenn R. Larison, 594-3385

Thomas M. Gifford, 535-9517

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: Margaret Starbuck, 535-8181

District Attorney: Joseph Fazzary, 535-8383


State, Federal Officials for Schuyler County

Sen. Charles E. Schumer

United States Senate
313 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510-3201
DC Phone: 202-224-6542
DC Fax: 202-228-3027
Email Address:

Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand

United States Senate
478 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510
DC Phone: 202-224-4451

State Senator Tom O'Mara -- Chemung, Schuyler, Steuben, Yates, western Tompkins, Enfield, Ithaca (Town and City), Newfield, Ulysses(Trumansburg)

Room 812, Legislative Office Building
Albany, NY 12247
Phone: (518) 455-2091
Fax: (518) 426-6976

Assemblyman Christopher Friend -- Chemung, Schuyler, Tioga
Room 720, Legislative Office Building
Albany, NY 12248
Phone: (518) 455-4538


© The Odessa File 2011
Charles Haeffner
P.O. Box 365
Odessa, New York 14869