Throughout New York State, local governments are facing growing fiscal woes and even insolvency. As anticipated, many are looking at the 2% property tax cap as the source of the problem. While the cap has significantly restricted spending and revenues, it is working exactly as planned.
The cap was one of Governor Cuomo’s highest legislative successes and will result in long-term savings for taxpayers. In its first year, more eighty-four percent of local governments (including school districts) stayed within the cap. Not only are local governments staying within the cap, more than ninety percent proposed budgets that were at or below the allowable tax limit.
Why then are local governments still struggling? In a word – MANDATES. The cap has effectively flushed out the real costs to local governments which are the state imposed unfunded mandates that drive up costs in the public sector each year. The savings produced by the Mandate Relief Redesign Task Force last year were not significant enough to lower costs and what is needed in this year’s legislative session is real and meaningful mandate relief.
Fortunately, recommendations are not hard to find. Several groups have penned reports offering solutions that will relieve local governments of significant financial pressures. Here are just a few:
- Let New York Work Coalition – LNYW is a collaborative effort of business and education advocacy organizations including Unshackle Upstate, which created the “Let NY Work: A Common Agenda for the Common Good”, which includes six critical points to enact significant mandate relief. (www.unshackleupstate.com );
- NYS Association of Counties (NYSAC) – published in Fall 2012, “A Roadmap to Mandate Relief” incorporates a number of mandate relief proposals that State lawmakers and the Mandate Relief Councils can implement. ( www.nysac.org );
- NYS School Boards Association (NYSSBA) – published its “Recommendations for Mandate Relief for School Districts” that would allow school districts to operate more efficiently and effectively. (www.nyssba.org );
- The Empire Center for New York State Policy – produces a number of reports addressing education reform. (www.empirecenter.org).
The tax cap was passed with the promise of real mandate relief to follow and we’re still waiting. New York needs strong leadership from all houses to implement the kinds of meaningful reforms that will preserve services and educational programs. There is no other option.