ALBANY – Local governments complaining about the high costs of state-mandated services should more aggressively consolidate overlapping local programs and “pray” for a robust national economic recovery to bring in more tax revenues, a combative Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Monday.
The governor, stinging from an increasing chorus from localities that an array of state mandates is hurting finances of communities across the state, appeared to dismiss calls for any major new state-fueled changes to help cities, counties, towns and villages cut the cost of mandates on everything from welfare to criminal-justice services. He left little doubt he has lost patience with complaints from local officials across New York about their fiscal plights.
“I have a $1 billion deficit. You know what I want? Mandate relief from the federal government, and when I get it I’ll pass it along,” Cuomo told reporters at the Capitol after a meeting of his agency commissioners and senior staff.
Localities have said they eventually embraced the property tax cap approved by Cuomo and legislators in 2011 because of hopes that the state, after decades of discussions, would move to reduce state mandates on required services and such things as edicts imposed on public construction projects.
Cuomo was having none of the complaints Monday and said local officials have a simple choice: cut the cost of government or ask voters to approve overrides to an annual property tax cap of about 2 percent.
“That’s called life, and that’s called the constraints you are in as a government official today,” Cuomo said. He said localities have to balance their budgets without asking for more help from Albany or “less responsibilities from above.”
Though only a year old, Cuomo insists the tax cap is working. He said it ended a system in which local officials “just put their hands deeper into the pocket of the taxpayer” to balance budgets.
Like local governments, which have seen dwindling tax receipts during the nation’s ongoing economic doldrums, Albany has witnessed problems with some economic-sensitive tax receipts. It pushed Cuomo and lawmakers last December to impose a $2 billion tax increase on wealthy residents.
“These are tough decisions, but it is what it is, and the decisions won’t change unless or until you have a significant shift in the national economy that generates much more revenue,” the governor said.
His comments come as an increasing number of localities, including school districts, say the state, especially with the new property tax cap, has to do more to reduce costly mandates, including various laws that raise personnel costs beyond just salaries paid to government employees.
According to the New York Conference of Mayors, “A tax cap without mandate relief will do nothing to address true cost drivers that plague municipal budgets, and is therefore doomed to fail.”