Lower Property Tax Hinges on Mandate Reform

Weekly column by Assemblyman Will Barclay (R-Pulaski)

We all know that New York State has high taxes. Unfortunately, since the recession hit, those taxes only increased, as the state Democratic leaders scurried for ways to pay for expenses, rather than trim spending. Subsequently, in the last two years, we’ve arrived at a one fiscal crisis after another at various intervals due to lack of cash in the general fund. Our state currently carries a $9 billion deficit.

Property owners, and anyone who interacts with state government in any way, have been asked to carry the burdens of pensions, Medicaid, education, public safety and healthcare. Our new governor has called for property tax relief. However, this cannot happen until mandate relief is put in place. I’m encouraged that Gov. Cuomo formed a “Mandate Relief Redesign Team.” He announced this during the State of the State address and more details were revealed soon after with a Who’s Who list of 23 people who I hope will propose various ways that the state can change its laws to save taxpayers money. The team consists of people from private business, education, labor and government who have been charged to “reduce the costs of mandated programs, identify mandates that are ineffective and outdated, and determine how school districts and local governments can have greater ability to control expenses,” according to the Governor’s office.

These are solutions I’ve advocated for in the past. Some are also supported by the New York State Association of Counties. I’m hopeful the redesign team proposes to apply the following and more to help cut costs and help the state spend within its means.

· Enable schools to have greater freedoms in using taxpayers’ money instead of being beholden to often outdated and nonsensical budgeting methods.

· Enable counties to determine services for Medicaid recipients. According to the New York State Association of Counties, counties are mandated to deliver and fund approximately $7 billion of Medicaid costs annually.

· Refocus the state’s efforts to reform laws and benefits programs to encourage self-sufficiency. Also, consolidate state agency efforts to ensure the most efficient delivery of services.

· In addition to Medicaid, counties are also required to fund at least a 40% share of the following programs: preschool special education, early intervention programs, child protective services, youth detention facilities, food stamps, indigent legal defense services, and probation. Also, temporary assistance for needy families (TANF) is required to be 25% funded at the county level. Changing these mandates would lower local property taxes substantially.

· Stop cost shifting Child Welfare programs. According to the New York Association of Counties, it costs counties about $60 million a year to pay for its “local” share of child welfare.

· Pass legislation that would require any state mandate imposed on a locality or a school district and costs more than $10,000 annually (or $1 million statewide) to be funded by the state.

I hope the team arrives at several creative ways to reduce mandates on localities. They are scheduled to submit a first set of recommendations by March 1 for this budget year and will continue review until the end of the 2011-12 fiscal year. The team, all who hail from various backgrounds and interests, should be able to pinpoint some of the more costly state mandates. After their report is reviewed by the Legislature, it is up to the Democratic majority leader in the Assembly to see that their recommendations are brought to the floor for a vote and implemented. Let’s hope the Majority uses their efforts to save taxpayers money and makes this as a good first step toward reforming the state budget. There are only so many cost-savings measures localities can put in place when a large portion of its budget is comprised of state mandates.

If you have any questions or comments on this or any other state issue, or if you would like to be added to my mailing list or receive my newsletter, please contact my office. My office can be reached by mail at 200 North Second Street, Fulton, New York 13069, by e-mail at [email protected] or by calling (315) 598-5185.