Op-ed: "Cuomo Must Include Mandate Relief in 2012 Budget," Buffalo News

Click HERE to see Chairman Cox's op-ed as it orginally appeared in the Buffalo News.

Driven by state and federal mandates that can eat up 85 percent or more of a county budget, New York’s property taxes are double the national average. Each year, the Tax Foundation shows upstate counties have the highest tax burden compared to property values in the nation.

While Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo joined our Senate Republican majority in passing one of the country’s strongest property tax caps, relief from the state mandates that are the major cause of high local property taxes has yet to be addressed.

Whereas candidate Cuomo promised “immediate” action on unfunded mandates, Gov. Cuomo’s Mandate Relief Redesign Team published a report with such diluted recommendations that many of the team members were stunned the report was even released.

In February 2011, the New York State Association of Counties presented the governor’s Mandate Relief Team with a comprehensive prescription for mandate relief statewide (available at nygop.org). Its report outlined cost-saving measures in the areas of child welfare, preschool special education, early intervention, indigent defense, probation and youth detention, but fingered the Medicaid mandate as by far the most burdensome.

Senate Bill 5889-B, sponsored by Sen. Catharine Young, R-Olean, and cosponsored in the Assembly by Assemblyman Andrew Goodell, R-Ellicott, requires the state to take over the present county Medicaid mandate, alleviating counties of a major cost.

A state burdened with the entire non-federal cost of Medicaid funding may finally get serious about rationalizing New York’s record Medicaid benefits and cutting Medicaid fraud.

Medicaid contributions may be the largest unfunded mandate on local governments, but state-mandated pension contributions are the fastest-growing. Cuomo has said that public pension reform will be his top goal for 2012. But in recent interviews, he pre-emptively blinked to the opposition (“I don’t think the unions are ever going to agree to pension reform”) and dodged responsibility (“It depends on whether or not the Legislature is going to do it”).

In fact, the governor has the broad constitutional powers required to enact pension reform in the budget process. But does he have the political will?

Last week, a group of North Country officials convened by Sen. Pattie Ritchie, R-Watertown, released a preliminary report outlining additional mandate relief priorities, including consolidating election districts, allowing smaller state authorities to undergo fewer external audits, loosening regulations on volunteer fire departments and eliminating the requirement that food programs have certain types of cutlery.

The solutions are there. What is needed is a leader with the political courage to take action. Cuomo must step up to the plate and make real mandate relief a priority in the next legislative session.

Ed Cox is chairman of the New York State Republican Party.