Local officials rap state mandates at New Paltz forum
NEW PALTZ, N.Y. – Speakers on Monday told Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Mandate Relief Council that unfunded mandates are killing local municipalities and school districts.
The forum at SUNY New Paltz was one of a series scheduled across the state.
Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy said Cuomo’s goal is to reduce expensive statutory and regulatory burdens on local governments and school districts – such as pensions and Medicaid. Last year, Cuomo’s administration passed $125 million in relief funding, and intends to extend the amount to billions over the next five years.
The panel included 18 state-level officials, comprised of legislators and commissioners. Roughly 50 people attended, including county leaders from Ulster, Orange, Westchester, Sullivan, and Rockland.
Gerald Benjamin, a SUNY New Paltz professor and former chairman of the Ulster County Legislature, told the council unfunded mandates don’t work. “Mandates do not achieve efficiency, and they do not reduce costs. They pass along costs, and they encourage inefficiency,” Benjamin said.
As Ulster County Executive Michael Hein put it, “the system will fail” and important, but non-mandated programs will go by the wayside. “We’re talking about things like community colleges, our police, domestic violence protection efforts, things that we wouldn’t want to live without,” he said.
Unfunded mandates will consume 79 percent of the 2012 Orange County budget, County Executive Edward Diana told the council. “Everybody’s going to be bankrupt at some point. Our county has little control over how the money is spent,” Diana said.
Meanwhile, one state legislator took the state to task on the issue of Medicaid funding. “The total program makes New York State look like the sickest bunch of people in the country,” said Assemblyman Joel Miller, R-Poughkeepsie.
“It means what we saw in the last 10 years, which is those with means left, over 1 million people left that could pay their taxes replaced by two million people more dependent on government,” he said.
School districts are suffering as well, since the two percent property tax cap cannot be bypassed by local law, as opposed to loopholes at the town level. Albany has increased the number of unfunded mandates through costly new testing, evaluation, and technology requirements, said Pine Bush Schools Superintendent Phillips Steinberg. “This all comes at the price of a tax levy cap.”
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