Albany, N.Y., February 8—The state’s Mandate Relief Council announced today that it will hold a series of public hearings across upstate New York, including in the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes regions in March, to give local officials and the public an opportunity to provide direct input on an issue that county leaders and others have identified as a top priority in 2012.
“We have to keep making the case that meaningful mandate relief is the only way to achieve meaningful, long-term property tax relief and sustain any hope for a long-term economic turnaround. We can’t let up on this issue. Here’s another opportunity to provide direct input,” said O’Mara.
State Senator Tom O’Mara (R-C, Big Flats) encouraged local officials and area residents to testify at the upcoming hearings and to continue to speak out on the mandate relief issue. The council has invited local officials and the public to submit suggestions and comments online through the following website: http://www.governor.ny.gov/mandatereliefcouncil 
While the Mandate Relief Council said specific hearing times and locations will be announced in the near future, the dates for the regional hearings are: March 9th in the Southern Tier and March 16th in the Finger Lakes.
The Mandate Relief Council was created last year by Governor Andrew Cuomo and the Legislature to develop recommendations on how best to address the issue of unfunded state mandates and the burden these mandates impose on local property taxpayers.
For his part, O’Mara has zeroed in on the local cost of Medicaid, which counties have long identified as the single-largest unfunded state mandate and the prime driver of high property tax rates.
“We have to begin putting in place a new system of Medicaid where county governments never again have to raise local property taxes to meet rising Medicaid costs,” O’Mara said.
Late last year, O’Mara joined a bipartisan group of more than 80 state legislators to co-sponsor legislation (S.5889) that would begin an eight-year phase-in of a complete state takeover of local Medicaid costs and save county taxpayers approximately $180 million this year. That legislation was recently approved by the Senate Social Services Committee. 
O’Mara has also introduced legislation (S.5787) with local Assemblymen Phil Palmesano (R-C-I, Corning) and Chris Friend (R-Big Flats) that would effectively freeze local Medicaid costs. The governor has included a similar proposal in his 2012-2013 state budget, but would phase in the takeover of local Medicaid growth over three years, beginning next year.
Many lawmakers, including O’Mara, continue to believe it’s unrealistic for the state to keep requiring local governments to find a way to handle escalating local Medicaid costs in the face of the 2-percent property tax cap the state imposed as part of last year’s state budget.