The new Mandate Relief Council will take its ideas for mandate reform directly to the people, state Sen. Betty Little says.
The council met publicly for the first time Wednesday in Albany. It was established by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the Legislature to address unfunded mandates that put the squeeze on local governments.
"We heard lots of ideas last year on the commission," Little said in a press release. "But there were a lot of members and little consensus on what to eliminate or change. The approach of the council this year is to bring these ideas directly to the public. It's going to be interactive and inclusive."
Little is a member of the 11-person council, which includes lawmakers from the Senate and the Assembly, as well as officials from the governor's office, the Division of the Budget, and the departments of State, Education, Health, and Human Services, Operations and Technology. The council was created last June after Cuomo and the Legislature struck a deal on a $125 million mandate-relief package.
Little said the council will begin a series of public hearings throughout the state "soon." The purpose of those hearings will be to discuss mandate relief and to solicit ideas and proposals on how the state can reduce "mandated statutory and regulatory burdens" on villages, towns, cities, counties and school districts.
The senator said behind every mandate lies a special interest.
"Many of the mandates are laudable but in some cases, unaffordable, or outdated or inappropriate for a region of the state," Little said.
Just because a mandate makes sense for Westchester County, it doesn't necessarily mean it works in Essex County, Little told the Enterprise recently.
The senator spoke Wednesday about a mandate that requires all fire departments in New York state to carry safety ropes that work in three-story buildings. Some communities in Little's district don't have any three-story buildings.
But that's not exactly the kind of mandate relief local governments are looking for. The New York State Association of Counties issued a report last year called "9 for 90" that targeted nine unfunded mandates that consume some 90 percent of the property tax levy collected statewide. Those include Medicaid, probation, pensions, indigent defense and preschool special education.
"Counties in New York have long served as the principal partner in administering the state's most critical programs in areas such as health, human services and public protection," the report reads. "But over time, the state has required (or mandated) more and more programs to be delivered and financed locally, using revenue raised by local taxes."
Jay town Supervisor Randy Douglas, who chairs the Essex County Board of Supervisors, said recently that he hopes the council will hold a hearing in his county, which overrode the state's 2 percent property tax cap last year to adopt a budget that increased the tax levy by more than 10 percent.
Little's spokesman Dan Mac Entee told the Enterprise there's no word yet on when and where the public hearings will be held.