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Cuomo Tells Local Governments: Make Tough Calls

Monday, October 22, 2012

Local governments in fiscal crisis lobbying for a sympathetic ear from Gov. Andrew Cuomo are getting a cold shoulder instead.

Governor Andrew Cuomo is telling local governments they are on their own when it comes to coping with a recently imposed property tax cap, saying it’s up to county and city government leaders to make the hard choices, and to stop complaining.

Local government leaders have been warning that the 2 percent property tax cap imposed by Cuomo and the legislature last year will severely squeeze their finances, and that key programs  and workers will have to be cut.

The state Association of Counties has predicted a structural budget gap of over $4 billion dollars over the next five years if there are no changes, and some upstate cities are teetering on the verge of bankruptcy. Many are seeking a state bail out or relief from some unfunded state mandates.

Governor Cuomo offered little sympathy to the local governments’ fiscal crises. Cuomo says he had to cope with a $10 billion dollar state budget deficit, and an ongoing weak economy. He says counties and cities will have to deal with their own problems as well.

“That’s called life,” Cuomo said.

When the property tax cap was enacted, Cuomo and the legislature said it was the first leg of a two part plan. After the tax cap was established, lawmakers were to follow up by eliminating some state regulations that local governments are mandated by law to finance.  

Gov. Cuomo appointed a commission to decide which mandates could be done away with. The commission missed a June reporting date, and no new date has been set. 

During a press conference, Cuomo said he’s already granted local governments some significant mandate relief, such as a phase in a takeover of any increases in the local share of the Medicaid health care program that rise beyond 3 percent, which will be worth $1.5 billion over five years.  The governor was reminded by a top aide that he and the legislature approved a new pension tier, so that future workers will receive fewer benefits, saving the state, as well as local governments, billions of dollars in costs in coming decades.  

“See, now I’m getting more agitated,” he said. “This was a lot of money.”

Cuomo says if upstate cities really believe they are “on the brink,” then they should give up their powers of governing to a state- appointed financial control board.

The New York Association of Counties’ Stephen Acquario is disappointed with the governor’s answers.

“If the state wants to enact a law, they should provide the funding,” Acquario said.

Acquario says counties are grateful for what Cuomo and the legislature have already done to help with long term health care and pension costs.  But he says the savings won’t take effect for some time.

“It’s in three years, it’s in 10 years, it’s in 15 years,” Acquario, who says the state needs to do more now.

Acquario says the governor needs to be more aggressive in taking on mandates that benefit public worker unions. He cites the Triborough Amendment, which allows old contract agreements to remain in place whenever a new contract cannot be agree upon.

Counties, as well as school boards, say the rule is very costly when bargaining talks drag on for years. A top aide to the governor has already said that repealing the Triborough Amendment is unlikely.   

Cuomo says there is another option available to local governments. They can override the property tax cap, if 60 percent of the elected representatives in a county vote to do so.  For school districts, 60 percent of the votes must say yes to an override.

“It’s democracy,” Cuomo said.

But Cuomo says realistically, that’s no longer an option. He says steep property tax increases over the past decades have driven people from the state. And he says no one should expect any changes from the current fiscal constraints until the national economy significantly improves.

With the Associated Press

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Comments [1]

H. Robinson from Westchester County

Gov Cuomo promoted the tax cap by also promoting mandate relief. Now he's evidently shifting the 2nd step from mandate relief to control boards which require loss of local control. Perhaps that was his agenda all along? Borrowing a phrase from the world of mergers and acquisitions, has the Gov changed from a Mandate reformer to a local government takeover artist?

The underlying problem which Gov Cuomo apparently wants to sweep under the rug is that unfunded/partially funded mandates are state spending hidden in local budgets so that the state does not have to pay for them AND DOESN'T HAVE TO INCLUDE THEM IN ITS DEFICIT CALCULATIONS.

In this election season, voters frequently hear incumbent legislator candidates pat themselves on the back for capping spending, or limiting spending. This is a misrepresentation in the sense that state spending inserted into local budgets is excluded from the conversation. If Gov Cuomo included that spending, his deficit would be much larger, and the voters would be much more aware of his and the Legislature's role in sinking NYS via the state spending Albany conceals in county school town budgets. Albany uses the tax cap to limit county school town spending, while not limiting its own spending. Albany, drunk on spending, limits local spending/drinking while continuing its own binge spending/drinking behind the scenes.

Reported comments in this article by Gov Cuomo deflect attention from state spending inserted in county town school budgets so that the Governor and NYS Senators and Assemblymen can avoid public accountability for that hidden spending. The pension and Medicaid measures cited are good initial steps, but amount to bailing out the sinking NYS economic ship with a tablespoon - they are too little, too late, to make a significant difference, though they enable the Gov to claim he has done something about the problem.

Please sign BEST4NY's mandate relief petition at
http://www.gopetition.com/petitions/mandate-relief-now/signatures.html
to pressure the Gov and the Legislature to cut the excessive state spending which the Legislature imposed and should take responsibility for fixing.

When Gov Cuomo wanted voters to support the tax cap, he had "People's Tour" - traveling around the state to mobilize voters for support. Were he serious about mandate relief, this fall he would have had a People's Tour asking voters to elect and send him NYS Senators and Assemblymen who would provide serious mandate relief. Notice he has endorsed incumbent 38th Senate District Senator David Carlucci who voted for the tax cap but voted against Cuomo's pension reform legislation. That endorsement is consistent with Cuomo the takeover artist, not Cuomo the mandate reformer.

Gov Cuomo still has time to switch gears and embrace true mandate relief. Here's hoping.

Oct. 26 2012 08:21 AM

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