Slashing Gov't Costs Is the Theme at the Capitol

Cutting the cost of government was the theme at the State Capitol Wednesday.

Governor Andrew Cuomo’s panel on mandate relief, one of three teams he's set up to foster ideas to lower the cost of government, gathered in Albany as Senators proposed ideas to lower costs for schools and local governments. 

Cuomo's panels tend to involve stakeholders or special interests, but in this case there were representatives from the school boards, the teacher’s union and local governments, among others. 

The panel’s chair, Larry Schwartz, said mandate relief is an “inside baseball” term that remains esoteric to most of the public. But Schwartz, who was Governor Paterson’s Chief of Staff before becoming a Senior Advisor to Cuomo, said ordinary citizens feel the effects of rules and regulations that are sent down from the state to schools and local governments. The regulations come without any additional money, and the districts and municipalities are forced to raise property taxes sky-high to pay for them.  

“We cannot, nor should you, be seen as the state’s ATM machine,” Schwartz told participants. “That has to stop.” 

The panel is supposed to come up with specific mandate reductions to be incorporated into the state budget by March 1. The public will be able to participate through a Web site set up through the governor’s office.

A break-away group of Senate Democrats were the first to offer specific proposals for mandate reductions that they say could bring down the cost of government. The four-member Independent Senate Democrats proposed ways to allow local governments to join together in cooperatives to buy health insurance plans for their employees, and make it easier to get into cheaper prescription drug plans.  

Senator David Carlucci, from Rockland County, in the Hudson Valley, called it a “common sense approach.”

Senate Republicans, who are in charge in that House, also focused on cost cutting, in the form of some one house bills that passed on the Senate floor, with some Democratic support. 

The GOP is pressing for a supermajority vote to raise taxes. It would require two thirds of the legislature to approve any tax hikes, instead of a simple majority. Republicans also approved a constitutional spending cap, which Senate Leader Dean Skelos says is needed to keep New York out of financial troubles.

“We would not have a deficit right now if that had been the law,” Skelos said. The state is facing a $10 billion gap.

The Senate also, with help from Senate Democrats, approved a job tax credit, for employers who hire new workers from the unemployment ranks. None of the measures have yet passed the Assembly.