By: Michael H. Ranzenhofer, State Senator – 61st District
As I mentioned in my July column, A ‘new start’ for New York State, the 2011 Legislative Session marked a dramatic turnaround for the State. Certainly, the passage of an on-time budget, a strong property tax cap, landmark ethics reform and NY SUNY 2020 were positive steps. But I also stressed that there is still more work to be done – especially by providing savings, through mandate relief, to school districts and local governments, and ultimately to taxpayers.
The Legislature began to address the issue of mandate relief in the property tax cap law. Three initiatives within the legislation start to address this issue: (1) a first-round of immediate cost savings to school districts, counties and municipalities (2) the creation of a mandate relief council to repeal additional mandates and (3) additional mechanisms to identify and highlight the increased costs to local governments, school districts, and municipalities before an unfunded mandate can even be enacted.
The property tax cap law saves $127 million in mandate relief for school districts and local governments, with $70 million in savings through centralized contracts; $34.6 million in savings specifically for school districts; $13 million in savings for localities in Transportation, Housing, Contracting, Procurement and Administration; $7.9 million in social services savings for counties; and over $1 million in criminal justice savings.
The mandate relief provisions, in my opinion, should be characterized as only a first round of cost savings. For counties, it does not address the burdensome cost of Medicaid payments. For school districts, it does not address onerous, duplicative audits. For all local governments, it does not address the high costs of the pension system. However, these issues must be addressed with the establishment of the mandate relief council.
The mandate relief council will have the ability to determine if a statute or regulation is costly or unduly burdensome and establish procedures for repealing unfunded mandates. The council will be composed of eleven members who will serve as volunteers and will not be compensated. Each of the eleven members will be nominated by the Governor and Legislature.
Lastly, under the new law, the State Comptroller is required to issue a detailed report on the effect of proposed mandates. Furthermore, it also requires a fiscal note on any piece of legislation including an unfunded mandate so that the true cost to local governments and school districts will be known.
As the year progresses, I will work with the Governor, and my colleagues in the Senate and Assembly, to not just take first steps, but to make more significant progress towards achieving additional mandate relief savings for school districts and local governments.
Senator Ranzenhofer's Monthly Column appeared in the Amherst, Clarence and Ken-Ton Bees on August 17, 2011.