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The Empire

Coalition Pushes for Mandate Relief

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By Karen DeWitt, New York Public Radio Capital Bureau Chief

A coalition of business lobbyists, city and village mayors, and school boards are pushing hard for reduced pension and health benefits for their employees, as part of a package of mandate relief that they say is necessary to help communities around New York live within the new 2% property tax cap law.

The groups want public workers and teachers to pay a minimum amount for their health insurances, at least 15% for individuals and 25% for families. They’d also like them to accept reduced pension benefits in the form of portable 401(k)s, and require that injured workers are awarded less money in some cases if they are hurt on the job.

Brian Sampson with the pro business group Unshackle Upstate says the newly passed 2% property tax cap is not going to work, unless local governments and schools  get easements from those rules in order to cut costs.

“This is what the taxpayers are asking for,” said Sampson. “They want government that’s affordable.”

Governor Andrew Cuomo has created a mandate relief task force. It issued its first report last March, but contained no major shake ups to existing mandates. Sampson says the panel just “nibbled around the edges”.

Heather Briccetti, with the New York State Business Council, agrees.

“It’s very modest recommendations,” Briccetti said. “This is broader than what that task force has offered up.”

Governor Cuomo says mandate relief is “a work in progress”, and admits more needs to be done.

“It’s a continuing process, it’s an evolving process,” said Cuomo.

Cuomo was at a bill signing ceremony to require more health insurance coverage for autistic children.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who also attended the event, says he thinks the governor and legislature took a “large step” this year toward mandate relief, and the Speaker says municipalities still want state money for the programs, they just don’t want to be told how to spend it.

“Which has its pluses and minuses,” says Silver, who cites instances of school districts receiving money for pre- Kindergarten  programs, and saying they want the extra cash, but do not want to implement pre-K programs.

Unions, whose members would feel the brunt of many the mandate changes requested, were incensed.  Danny Donohue, President of the state worker union CSEA, in a statement, accused the coalition of being a “front group” for Cuomo, and his “corporate allies”, who he says are using public workers as a “scapegoat”.

The coalition says they are responding to a request from the state’s Lieutenant Governor, Robert Duffy, who asked the audience at a recent Business Council meeting to provide specific examples of mandates that they find onerous.