Downward Pressure From Albany Crushing Local Governments, Driving Up Taxes

New Yorkers pay the highest property taxes in the nation. It’s a dubious distinction that has plagued the Empire State for years. It is almost certainly a key element in another harsh reality – New York leads the nation in number of residents leaving for other states.
 
When families and homeowners sit down to write a check to their local tax collector, they probably aren’t thinking about unfunded mandates – but they should.
 
Costly mandates imposed by the state are crushing local governments. Far too often, the state forces policies and programs onto localities, which are then responsible for paying the costs of implementing those initiatives. Those costs are then passed down to taxpaying residents. Imagine going to dinner with a friend who orders everything on the menu and leaves when the check comes. That’s the dilemma localities face when dealing with Albany’s unfunded mandates. 
 
FIXING BLAME WON’T FIX THE PROBLEM
 
According to the New York State Association of Counties, nine mandates from Albany take up a full 99 percent of county budgets. There is absolutely no flexibility for county leaders when crafting spending plans. So it’s curious that instead of addressing the issue at its core, the governor instead blames local governments for the state’s high-tax problems. 
 
He claims municipalities do not want to cut costs. He claims that the number of local government entities is what drives up property taxes. And he has proposed forcing another mandate onto localities in order to address the issue.
 
The governor would like to force county leaders to develop a plan to share services and consolidate local governments. Those plans would eventually be put in front of the voters. However, if the state Legislature does not pass his proposal, the governor is threatening to withhold $715 million in state aid from financially-strapped localities.  
 
The problems with this approach – besides trying to extort his way to public policy – is that it’s based on the false premises that local leaders aren’t already working toward finding efficiencies and that the governor’s inaccurate and inflated number of local governments (10,000) all come with a financial drain on a region. Neither could be further from the truth.
 
MANDATE RELIEF & TAX RELIEF GO HAND-IN-HAND
 
The New York State Conference of Mayors & Municipal Officials (NYCOM), which represents elected officials working closest to the public, has summarily rejected the governor’s program. Last week, NYCOM’s Executive Director, Peter Baynes, said, “It may not fit with the governor’s view of local government, but the truth is municipal leaders are doing more than ever to find shared efficiencies and limit spending. The last thing municipalities need is another mandate from Albany.”
 
I have proposed legislation (A.5628) that puts a permanent moratorium on any new unfunded mandate that would cost more than $10,000 to a municipality or over $1 million statewide. If the state is going to force a program on a local government, it must be willing to pay for it.  
 
Despite the smoke and mirrors of the governor’s plan, the reality is this: New York homeowners will never see taxes drop in this state so long as we rely on short-sighted policies that ignore the root causes of what drives our property tax burden.
 
Unfunded mandates may not be a term or an issue that keeps most people up at night. But the nation’s worst property taxes certainly do. What the governor needs to recognize is that once we directly reduce the number of mandates – New Yorkers will sleep much easier.
 
What do you think?  I want to hear from you. Send me your feedback, suggestions and ideas regarding this or any other issue facing New York State. You can always contact my district office at (315) 781-2030, email me at kolbb@assembly.state.ny.us, find me by searching for Assemblyman Brian Kolb on Facebook, and follow me on Twitter.

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