ICYMI: Cuomo Silent on Mandate Relief

Gannett
January 18, 2013
By: Joe Spector
 
ALBANY - Gov. Andrew Cuomo didn't mention unfunded mandates in his State of the State address, drawing concerns from struggling municipalities that the state isn't addressing their fiscal problems.

Cuomo proposed a Financial Restructuring Assistance Program in his speech Jan. 9 to help local governments deal with their money woes. Local leaders said they don't need counseling.

"We haven't raised our taxes in eight years. Can the state say that? My thought is maybe we need to give them some advice," said Chemung County Executive Thomas Santulli.

During his first two years in office, Cuomo has said he has taken steps to alleviate mandates on local governments.

The state created a less generous pension tier for new public workers and is taking over increases in Medicaid costs for counties.

Municipalities want the state to pick up expenses for some social-service and pre-kindergarten expenses. They are warning about a dire fiscal picture without additional help from Albany, with some saying bankruptcy is looming.

Expenses for the 57 counties outside New York City is expected to outpace revenue by $4 billion over the next decade, the state Association of Counties estimated last fall.

"To not address mandate relief, I think the county executives were surprised to say the least that it was not mentioned," said Putnam County Executive MaryEllen Odell.

Cuomo will release his 2013-14 budget proposal on Tuesday. Local governments said they hope they will get some relief in the plan. Aid to municipalities has been flat in recent years.

From 2001 through 2011, federal and state aid grew 2.2 percent annually, slower than the 2.4 percent rate of inflation, Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli said in a report Wednesday.

"I think it's important for people to understand that what is driving the increased pressure on local governments is the fact that some of the traditional aid and support from the state and federal level just haven't been there," DiNapoli said. "That's forcing either raising taxes on the local level or cutting services."

Local governments and schools are also contending with a property-tax cap that was implemented in 2011.

It restricts the growth in property taxes to 2 percent a year, but it can be overridden by a majority of a governing board. For schools, 60 percent of voters need to approve an override.

About 24 percent of local governments who have filed their tax-cap plans with the Comptroller's Office have indicated they will override the tax cap this year. About 19 percent sought an override last year.

Sen. Thomas O'Mara said Cuomo's State of the State address talked about upstate development, but lacked a focus on the finances of local governments and schools.

"There was certainly a mention of upstate New York, but no talk of mandate relief, which is a crushing burden that our county governments, school districts, have across upstate New York," he said.

From 2006 through 2011, expenditures for the state's nearly 4,000 local governments grew by 17.4 percent, while revenues increased 15 percent, a report last month from DiNapoli said.

In his address, Cuomo said a joint task force with the comptroller, the attorney general, the state Budget Division and private-sector restructuring consultants would work with local governments to solve their problems. He also has a mandate-relief panel that was formed in 2011.