What the Property Tax Cap Means for Mandates

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Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Today on the Brian Lehrer Show, Stephen Acquario, Executive Director of the New York State Association of Counties, joinedthe show to discuss the property tax cap agreement and the effect on counties around New York.

Relief pitcher

Last year, Andrew Cuomo ran on a property tax cap. Now, he's inches away from the finish line.

With Albany's legislative session in extra innings, it looks like the overtime will produce a compromise: annual property tax collections will be capped at two percent, and local governments could be relieved of mandates that require spending on state programs. Stephen Acquario said that you can't have one without the other, that you can't limit municipal revenues and still ask local governments to pony up cash to the state that they'd rather spend at home.

The state must be responsible for its programs and services. The state shouldn't say to locals, 'You can't spend your local revenue on local programs, you have to spend it on state programs first.' How is that fair?

Making it meaningful

On Tuesday, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos announced that there was a "tentative framework" for an agreement on a property tax cap and mandate relief. However, Acquario said that he hasn't seen anything close to what he calls "meaningful mandate relief" in the legislation that would successfully implement the cap.

Apparently the Speaker has problems with the Senate's mandate relief package, which is critical to the Senate conference. It's not over with yet, it's a very fluid situation. But clearly, to effectively implement a tax cap without destroying community college participation, or long-term home health care programs, nursing homes, tourism, water, sewer, economic development projects, road patrol, infrastructure—they need to get this relief.

Medicaid: the Big Kahuna

What state programs is Acquario referring to? What unfunded mandates currently make a property tax cap unworkable? What would be "meaningful," to borrow Acquario's term?

For a bloated, expensive and ineffective mandate, Acquario said, look no further than Medicaid. And he has an idea of how to deal with it.

Medicaid is the Big Kahuna. We've delivered a plan to the governor calling for a ten-year phase-out of local property taxes, local taxes funding a federal Medicaid program in New York State. It started in the 1960s and it's grown up to be a program that's out of control spending. Recipients aren't benefiting from this, providers aren't benefiting from this, and local taxpayers are hurting from this.