MESSAGE TO ALBANY: There is still time to deliver unfunded mandate relief and enact fiscal restraint to protect local taxpayers! That was the message delivered by Assembly Minority Leader Brian M. Kolb (R,I,C-Canandaigua), Assembly Minority Members, County leaders, and local government advocates gathering in the Assembly Parlor this morning to make one final push for unfunded mandate relief and fiscal restraint to protect localities, school districts and taxpayers before the 2011 Legislative Session concludes.
Joining Leader Kolb and the Assembly Minority Conference at the press conference were Rensselaer County Executive Kathy Jimino; Monroe County Executive Maggie Brooks; Montgomery County Board of Supervisors Chairman Tom Quackenbush and New York State School Boards Association Executive Director Tim Kremer.
"Unfunded mandates - the endless stream of rules, regulations and bureaucratic requirements imposed on high from Albany onto local governments and school districts - result in higher property taxes for homeowners. Whether it is filling out administrative paperwork, building a school, delivering Medicaid services, or providing health care and pensions, state government mandates what localities should do, and how they should do it, without providing funding to pay for it. It's wrong, it's irresponsible and needs to stop," Leader Kolb said.
"As someone who has served on a school board, as well as in Town and County government, I know firsthand that state unfunded mandates are nightmares for localities, as is Albany's fiscal irresponsibility, yet these issues have been left on Albany's backburner. Robert Kennedy once said 'There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why... I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?' Today, a coalition of state legislators, County leaders and local government advocates dares to dream of a better future for taxpayers and asks 'why not?' Why not unfunded mandate relief this year, this session? Why not an up or down vote on unfunded mandate relief and fiscal restraint proposals introduced in the Assembly and Senate? Why not set partisan politics aside and take action to protect the pocketbooks of local taxpayers from Albany's mandated cost drivers before session finishes?" Leader Kolb asked.
Some of the unfunded mandate relief and fiscal restraint initiatives from both Legislative Conferences in the Assembly and Senate deserving an up or down vote prior to the conclusion of the 2011 session include:
• Cap state spending to the average rate of inflation of the three previous calendar years;
• Allow counties to opt out of providing optional Medicaid services to new enrollees;
• Freeze the municipal share of local Medicaid costs at the current levels;
UNFUNDED MANDATE MORATORIUMS AND FISCAL NOTE REQUIREMENTS
• Require any new state mandate imposed on a locality or a school district and costs more than $10,000 annually (or $100,000 for more than one subdivision) to be funded by the state;
• Require legislative fiscal impact notes to be attached to bills prior to passage that include objective calculations of anticipated economic impacts on state or local governments;
• Authorize the governor to submit an unfunded mandate reform plan to the legislature when it is in the public interest;
PENSION AND WORKFORCE COSTS
• Establish a defined contribution retirement plan for all new public employees;
• Create the "Public Employees' Fair Employment Act Study Commission" to review the existing Taylor Law;
• Allow for regional school district employee collective bargaining through BOCES;
• Authorize BOCES and district superintendents to study consolidation and shared services, as well as transportation services contracts;
• Authorize school districts to provide student transportation based upon patterns of actual ridership;
• Require the Commissioner of Education to reduce onerous paperwork requirements and allow electronic submission of reports;
• Establish a comparative negligence standard for claims under Labor Law sections 240 and 241 with respect to a recalcitrant worker; and
• Increase cost threshold to $3 million state wide for qualification under WICKS Law requirements for separate contracts on public works projects.
"The legislation under discussion today represents acknowledgment by Albany that any local property tax cap must be accompanied by meaningful action to effectively reform run away state mandates, to make the local property tax cap workable, and are to be congratulated for their efforts that are a step in the right direction," stated Rensselaer County Executive Kathleen M. Jimino.
"As Monroe County Executive, I have made protecting property taxpayers my top priority. We have successfully held the line on property taxes each and every year since 2004, and are one of only 4 of New York's 62 counties to have not raised its property tax rate during that time. Yet in spite of these accomplishments, Upstate communities stand as some of the highest-taxed areas in the nation, with property taxes nearly 80 percent above the national average. While a tax cap is a positive first step, Albany must immediately address the root cause of high property taxes in our state-unfunded mandates. Nine state mandates consume an astounding 90 percent of the county property tax levy statewide. I urge State government to reduce the cost of these unsustainable programs to protect taxpayers and free local governments to control their own fiscal destinies. Meaningful relief for property taxpayers will remain a dream until Albany gets serious about mandate reform," said Monroe County Executive Maggie Brooks.
"Here in Montgomery County, we haven't been waiting for Albany to act. In fact, we took the lead in working to reduce our costs and control government spending. The reality is that we have already tightened our fiscal belt - now it is time for Albany to do likewise. It begins by giving counties the flexibility they need to solve local problems with local solutions through enacting comprehensive unfunded mandate relief. Additionally, a state spending cap would impose some much-needed fiscal discipline on state government so it begins to live, and spend, within its means. Both of these priorities need to be enacted into law before Albany breaks session. Taxpayers will not accept the job being left unfinished and I want to thank Leader Kolb for making these issues a top priority," said Tom Quackenbush, Chairman of the Montgomery County Board of Supervisors.
"Removing barriers to cost-savings is a critical ingredient to reducing school district spending and property taxes. School boards should be able to invest every dollar they can into academic programs and services for students rather than expensive mandates," said New York State School Boards Association Executive Director Timothy G. Kremer.
NYCOM Executive Director Peter Baynes stated, "As the Conference of Mayors has said all along, mandate relief is the essential element for real and sustainable property tax relief in New York, and I commend Minority Leader Kolb for his efforts to reiterate this message. Before our state lawmakers head home for the summer, NYCOM urges them to give our taxpayers the two things they need most - property tax relief and the continuation of essential municipal services. This can only happen if Albany finally demonstrates the will to reform the state mandates that are the real culprits in creating New York's overwhelming property tax burden."
"If the previous week at the State Capitol demonstrated anything, it was this: where there is a will, Albany finds a way. If same sex marriage and rent control legislation can receive Messages of Necessity and hours upon hours of debate, surely Albany can summon the will to tackle essential issues such as unfunded mandate relief and fiscal restraint to better protect local governments, school districts and taxpayers," Leader Kolb said.
"Susan B. Anthony was quoted as saying that 'failure is impossible.' Failure to deliver real change by finally doing something about Albany's unfunded mandates and fiscal irresponsibility will be impossible IF our fellow legislators join us in protecting local taxpayers. We are asking our colleagues in both houses, from both parties, to stand with us and make good on the unfulfilled promise of unfunded mandate relief and restoring fiscal restraint prior to session's completion," Leader Kolb concluded.