Contact: Doug Finch (315) 781-2030
Last year, the state Legislature passed, and Governor Cuomo signed into law, a property tax cap to limit property tax increases to two percent annually or the rate of inflation, whichever was lower. The property tax cap was intended to help reduce the burden on New York homeowners paying some of the nation's highest property taxes but the reality is that it hasn't done enough, not nearly enough, to deliver the real tax relief many homeowners need.
For years I pushed and pulled, prodded and cajoled Albany's broken status quo into finally waking up and recognizing that homeowners - especially homeowners in upstate where nine of the ten highest property taxed counties in America are located - faced a property tax crisis. Not a property tax problem but a property tax crisis threatening to force many from the very homes they built because they could not afford the tax bill.
UNFUNDED MANDATES STILL A HUGE PROBLEM
However, after the property tax cap was enacted, I immediately said that the cap was incomplete and that Albany needed to take action to relieve the ongoing burden on homeowners by enacting comprehensive unfunded mandate relief. Specifically, here's what I said back in 2011:
"Absent significant relief from unfunded mandates and Albany-imposed cost drivers that local governments, school districts and our Conference have said must accompany any cap, New York's property tax crisis remains."
I said then - and have been saying ever since - that regardless of a tax cap, unless Albany did something to stop its endless tide of unfunded mandates - the rules, regulations and requirements State government annually imposes on local governments without providing any funding to offset their costs - property taxes would continue being a big problem.
This was certainly true for senior citizen homeowners living on fixed incomes and for families still struggling to weather the Great Recession. More than one year removed from my comments after the tax cap became law, the reality is that far too many homeowners are working harder and longer than ever just to afford their property taxes because of Albany unfunded mandates that force localities to raise taxes. While it may fall under the cap, a two percent property tax increase is still too much. I want a zero percent increase, but that won't happen without unfunded mandate relief.
PROPERTY TAX CRISIS HAS BECOME AN UNFUNDED MANDATE CRISIS
What was a property tax crisis has become an Albany unfunded mandate crisis and it confronts every county, city, town and village government, every school district and every local taxpayer.
Unless we shut off Albany's unfunded mandate spigot, the unrestricted flow of unfunded mandates will make the property tax cap less and less ineffective. When 90 cents of every County property tax dollar goes toward unfunded State mandates; Albany, we have a problem. Big time.
In fact, the unfunded mandate crisis has become so serious that there is regular talk in Albany of instituting "financial control boards" that would oversee, and, in some cases, administrate the budgets of numerous local governments. Having Albany - which caused many local governments' financial problems - enact financial control boards is like asking the fox to oversee chicken coop security. It makes no sense. Albany has been, and continues to be, the source of our unfunded mandate problem. Solving this challenge requires taking proactive steps to stop unfunded mandates before they are imposed, along with rolling back existing mandates.
SMART SOLUTIONS FOR REAL UNFUNDED MANDATE RELIEF
Folks, there is a better way! It begins with stemming the rising tide of Albany unfunded mandates. Here are three policies we should enact during a Special Session this fall as opposed to waiting until 2013 for the problems to get even worse for local governments and taxpayers:
- Freeze the entire share of local costs from the Medicaid program and begin a phased-in State takeover of the total local share, not just the increase. New York spends more on Medicaid than Texas and Florida COMBINED even though those two states together have millions more people than we do;
- Ban all new unfunded State mandates and suspend current mandates (unrelated to health and safety) - this will allow local governments a moment to stop and catch their breath from the non-stop barrage of Albany's unfunded mandates; and
- Free school districts from Albany's time-consuming, duplicative, expensive paperwork and administrative mandates - this will help reduce costs for school districts and hold the line on any school property tax increases.
As I have said previously, Albany unfunded mandates threaten local governments, school districts and taxpayers. The property tax cap was not nearly enough and we need to do more. It's time for Albany to wake up and help solve the unfunded mandate crisis facing New York before it's too late.
As always, constituents wishing to discuss this topic or any other state-related matter should contact my district office at (315) 781-2030 or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.