When Gov. Cuomo first proposed a 2-percent cap on local property taxes, the predictions of doom and gloom flew fast and furious.
So I was pleased to see the recent report by the Empire Center that said 92 percent of the state’s school districts proposed budgets that are under the cap. Only 51 districts proposed budgets that exceed the cap, and when the public budget votes are held next Tuesday (May 15, 2012), those districts – by law – will need to get 60 percent of their district’s voters to approve their budgets.
That’s not to say this school budgeting process has been without pain. Some districts lowered their costs and got under the cap by using their reserves, allowing positions to go unfilled through attrition or in some cases, through outright program and staff cuts.
Any business person will tell you that’s an unsustainable model. At some point, you simply run out of reserves or places to cut. The only way this is going to work is to truly reduce the cost of local government. And the best way to do that is to cut back on unfunded mandates, those requirements the state imposes without any funding to pay for them.
We’ve said all along that the tax cap and mandate relief go hand-in- hand. Simply put, the tax cap will fail and our communities will be significantly damaged, if we don’t get some mandate relief.
Just a couple quick examples: Personnel costs – wages, benefits and pensions – are the major portion of any budget. But in the case of public employees, their bosses (us, the taxpayers) can do little to control those rising costs due to mandate such as the Taylor Law and Triborough Amendment. Capital construction is also a significant, but very necessary, expense. But again, an unfunded mandate (Wicks Law) drives those costs higher than they need be.
I congratulate Gov. Cuomo for getting the tax cap in place, something that previous administrations had not been able to accomplish, and for his efforts to address the issues caused by unfunded mandates.
I congratulate those school districts who made the tough decisions and stayed under the property tax cap limit.
Now it’s time for our legislators in both houses and both parties to make some tough decisions and give local governments, schools and the taxpayers who support them a fighting chance by reforming these mandates.