Last week, State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli announced an early warning monitoring system to identify municipalities and school districts experiencing signs of budgetary strain so that corrective actions can be taken before a full financial crisis develops.

The Comptroller cited the “considerable economic challenges and structural budget imbalances” faced by local government officials.  He says that an “early warning system that will identify those headed down the path to fiscal crisis sooner and give local officials and the public sufficient time to discuss options for turning things around.”

The Comptroller also released a report examining the demographic and financial trends of New York’s 61 cities (except for New York City) over the past three decades. It finds that many cities throughout the state are struggling to balance their budgets while trying to deal with deteriorating local economies.

Read more about the report – and the cost drivers local governments face – in E.J. McMahon’s analysis at The Torch.

An “early warning system” is not a bad idea, but our concern is that such a system is too little, too late.  The tax cap was an important step forward.  But we need mandate relief as well in order to ensure that local governments and school districts can live within the cap.

Two examples: personnel costs – wages, benefits and pensions – are the major portion of any budget. But in the case of public employees, local government leaders can do little to control those rising costs due to mandate such as the Taylor Law and Triborough Amendment. In terms of capital expenditures, the Wicks Law drives up capital costs.