By Assembly Minority Leader Brian M. Kolb (R,C,I-Canandaigua)
Governor Andrew Cuomo recently delivered his State of the State Speech and presented his 2013-14 Executive Budget, events that mark the beginning of the 2013 Legislative Session. Although the Gov. did offer some mandate relief proposals in his Executive Budget, we have many miles to go until we provide REAL relief for our families, schools, businesses and local governments.
As we continue to analyze Governor’s Executive Budget, it is time for legislators in Albany to turn toward county and local officials as well as small businesses and taxpayers. We must engage in meaningful discussion and analysis of our state’s needs with an eye toward creating a budget that will serve all 19 million New Yorkers. I would like to get the conversation started by sharing one of my top priorities – mandate relief.
PROVIDING A SOLID FOUNDATION FOR FUTURE GROWTH IS NOT POSSIBLE WITHOUT UNFUNDED MANDATE RELIEF
Think of your family’s home. Every structure needs a solid foundation, and New York’s local and county governments are no different. No family or business, large or small, can survive if their expenses exceed their income. Simply put, if we cannot balance our checkbook, we must cut expenses.
Unfunded mandates are like termites boring their way into a home’s foundation. When Albany tells local governments to do something – start a program or provide a service – but does not provide any funding for it, the local taxpayers have to pick up the bill. Localities and school districts are forced to raise property taxes to make up the shortfall. School boards across New York, especially those in low-wealth, high-need districts, are struggling. Bottom line: when state government passes along unfunded mandates, it results in increased costs for school districts and drives up property taxes for homeowners.
The problem is all too real. From 2001 to 2012, the Assembly voted 120 times to pass unfunded mandate legislation with a fiscal impact totaling over $85 billion. In fact, county leaders tell me they can only use ten cents out of every tax dollar that the taxpayers give them for running their government and supporting local programs. One thin dime. Everything else goes directly toward state-mandated programs.
What happens when the termites eat a house’s foundation? There is just not enough left to support the structure above. No matter how much progress we make trying to attract new companies to New York, if their very foundation is at risk, our school districts and local governments will not be able to function. We must stop this destructive practice and review all existing mandates, focusing on reducing the overwhelming unfunded mandate burden.
A PLAN TO PROTECT NEW YORK TAXPAYERS, SCHOOL DISTRICTS AND LOCAL GOVERNMENTS
One of my top policy priorities for our 2013 Session is protecting taxpayers and localities by stopping Albany’s unfunded mandates. I have sponsored two bills designed to protect our school districts and local governments from budget-busting unfunded mandates:
- “Taxpayer Protection and Mandate Relief Act”: prohibits any new unfunded mandates; freezes county Medicaid costs at their current level; allows counties to opt out of optional Medicaid services; caps state spending; and
- “New York State Mandate Relief for School Districts Act”: provides comprehensive mandate relief for school districts; ensures the retention of quality teachers; the discipline of tenured teachers; review of special education requirements.
PROVIDING MANDATE RELIEF – ONE OF SEVERAL KEY PRIORITIES FOR MOVING NEW YORK FORWARD
Providing local tax relief for municipalities and school districts by focusing on reducing unfunded mandates is only one of several key priorities I will focus on in Albany this year. I am eager to begin collaborating with local families, businesses and elected officials to take action on my other legislative priorities for 2013, including creating jobs, reducing the size and cost of state government (e.g.) consolidation of the Thruway Authority within the Department of Transportation, regulatory reform and making the 2011 middle-class tax cut permanent. These are the necessary steps to move New York forward and create a better, brighter future for the families, businesses and communities in our state.