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Mandate relief? Not this lifetime

February 8, 2011 - John Stack
Mandate Relief (and other myths)

The big buzzword recently has been ‘Mandate Relief’. This refers to new rules that the State or Federal government tell local governments to take care of, but give no funding. Now, the local county/town/school has to comply, and it costs more money for the locality, and therefore taxpayers. Governor Cuomo even has a task force set up to look into mandate relief. Gov Cuomo is proposing a 2% tax cap on property tax levies. Many locals like this, except it comes with no promise that the State won’t force unfunded mandates down again. Just in the real property world, recently there has been a spate of unfunded mandates. Recently NYS passed a law limiting Basic STAR exemptions from school tax to be income based – anyone making over $500,000 is no longer eligible. How is this to be taken care of? Well the State is sending lists of possible STAR recipients to local assessors and having them check for the new limit. How much money has been sent to localities to help? Zero. Cuomo also announced he is going to look to find where people are double dipping with primary home exemption in multiple states as well as multiple homes. Who do you think is going to administer this? Local assessors is a good bet. How much funding will probably flow to the towns? Probably zero. Right now, local assessors have to take continuing education in order to stay certified. Currently, NYS pays for a good portion of this continuing ed, including travel and classes. Now, Cuomo has proposed to cut all this reimbursement. The town assessors won’t be exempt from the training requirements, so these classes still need to be taken. Who then has to pay for this? Again, the local town’s budget. Now, to be sure, individually these amounts aren’t much. Even together, they may not add up to a lot. But these are just those of which I am involved. How about other areas? In a town there are highway departments, which truly dwarf the size of an assessor’s office. How many unfunded mandates are there? From where snow can be dumped or salt stored and the like. Also reporting requirements for the town as a whole. How about counties? Essex and Franklin each probably have well more than a dozen departments. Each probably has their own nightmare about unfunded mandates. How about Schools? When schools need to supply certain foods, certain classes, certain types of teachers, etc etc.. the amount of unfunded mandates is probably astronomical. The assessor type of mandates probably aren’t even looked at as actual unfunded mandates (even though there really is no other way to view them). Gov Cuomo is also proposing to slash education funding $1.4 billion next year. Last year, Tupper Lake took a phenomenal hit when they lost 25% of the school staff. With unfunded mandates, a tremendous cut in aid to Tupper proposed (as a poorer district, they rely more heavily upon state funding) coupled with Cuomo’s proposed 2% cap, what will happen in Tupper? Can’t raise taxes, so they have to cut cut cut. At what point does the last worker left in the Tupper Lake School district be told he has to make sure he shuts off the lights and locks the doors for good?

Gov Cuomo has also appointed a ‘mandate relief’ commission. Its charge? - looking for ways to reduce the costs of mandated programs -identifying mandates that are ineffective and outdated, and -determining how school districts and local governments can have greater ability to control expenses.

Notice anything missing? How about something along the lines of ‘No more unfunded mandates!’

Gov Cuomo finally has a mandate from the people to do what the legislature never has done before – make serious cuts. But, many of the current proposed cuts or changes don’t help the Stae as a whole. For every $1,000 the stay doesn’t pay in reimbursement, a town taxpayer will. For every time the state doesn’t track down fraudulent exemption claims, the local town is paying.

The 2% tax cap, the ‘circuit breaker’ are nice ideas, but they are window dressing. True mandate relief is needed. Waiting for true mandate relief is like waiting for Godot. Actually its worse. While the characters actually expected Godot, most people understand that not only will Godot NOT show up, things will just get worse while those in power trip over each other congratulating themselves on passing ‘meaningful’ reform, while pension reform, school building funding , and the like which is true reform is completely ignored.


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