Putting the brakes on unfunded state mandates

In Columns by Hal PetersonLeave a Comment

In his State of the State address, Gov. Andrew Cuomo authorized two committees, one reviewing Medicaid spending; the second, needed relief from costly and burdensome state mandates.

As I mentioned in my last column, “Reforming Medicaid: It’s a ‘slam dunk?” (March 10-16, 2011) the committee addressing Medicaid passed along to the Legislature 79 “cost saving” recommendations which, if adopted, could save the taxpayer’s of New York $2.3 billion.

The need for relief is apparent and expressed well in a letter sent to Cuomo by Lawrence Schwartz, the head of the Mandate Relief Redesign team. He wrote, “For too long the relationship between the State and local government has been a one way street when mandates were handed down from Albany without care for the impact on local government and their taxpayer’s.” This has to be considered a world-class mea-culpa.

Now the hard part! How will this team grapple with a paralyzing web of spending requirements that have piled up for decades?

Cuomo’s approach is rather straight forward. Invite representatives from the Department of Education, school superintendent organizations, school administrators, school boards, the United Teacher’s Association, civil service employees, business councils, building trades, elected officials, fire and police and, one Mayor (from Jamestown) to formally propose recommendations that will “stop the train of unfunded mandates in its tracks.”

Press releases issued since the publication of this team’s report on March 1st give credit to the committee for some policy proposals including a suggestion advancing both a constitutional amendment and a new state law that will require the full funding of mandates that apply to local government and school districts. For more information you can use http://governor.ny.gov/mandaterelief.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy, who sought the Republican Party’s nomination to run against Cuomo last year, is less enthralled, describing the report as “87 pages of nothing.”

Once again we are dealing with a rather fundamental issue. State operations, for the lack of another word, continue to display amazing levels of “dysfunction” left to be resolved by ad hoc committees rather than legislature debate and action.

Considering what’s going on, we can well understand why New York State has the highest local taxes in America as a percent of personal income —- 79 percent above the national average and with Nassau County the second highest taxed county in the nation.

Of note: On time budgets were only passed six (6) times since 1975.


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