By Peter Baynes, Mike Durant and Brian Sampson
It is time for New York State to get serious about mandate relief. We are among the most fervent believers that the tax cap is one part of a two-part solution to make our communities more affordable. The second part, and equally as critical, is meaningful and immediate mandate relief.
Many local governments and school districts are having difficulty living under the tax cap. Simply overriding it is not the answer. The state must take steps to help them manage the costs that they cannot otherwise control.
This is not a new issue. In 2010, as part of his gubernatorial campaign, Andrew M. Cuomo wrote: “We must also eliminate mandates that make it impossible for school districts and localities to contain costs.”
The Cuomo administration has taken some initial positive steps, such as establishing a Mandate Relief Council, having the state take over Medicaid growth and limiting pension costs for future employees by enacting a new pension tier. Last month, the Mandate Relief Council endorsed some further steps that would be helpful to schools.
However, there’s much more work to be done. The governor and Legislature must make eliminating unfunded mandates a priority in the upcoming legislative session.
There is no shortage of ideas about how to provide mandate relief. Our organizations joined with a number of other groups in establishing the “Let New York Work Agenda.” In fact, the New York Conference of Mayors has been a leading voice on mandate relief for decades with its website, www.StopTheTaxShift.org.
With the tax cap in place, we need strong leadership to achieve mandate relief.
Too many school districts are facing insolvency, while villages, towns, cities and counties are struggling to make ends meet. We know that everyone must tighten his belt. But we also know that the state must do its part as well, because no local government or school district will survive on a starvation diet.
In upstate New York, where the loss of manufacturing jobs over the last few decades has eroded the tax base, fewer and fewer taxpayers are left to bear the tax burden. We continue to export that which we can least afford to lose: our young people.
The tax cap is forcing local governments and school districts to live within taxpayers’ means. Real mandate relief will enable our local governments and school districts to provide essential services at an affordable cost. Only then will Albany ensure that our communities can support thriving businesses and growing families.
Peter Baynes is executive director of the New York Conference of Mayors. Mike Durant is state director of the National Federation of Independent Businesses. Brian Sampson is executive director of Unshackle Upstate.