Government Reform Bill Passes

Malcolm A. Smith

June 04, 2009

The Albany Project
By robert.harding

The New York State Senate passed the very important New York Government Reorganization and Citizen Empowerment Act, a government reform bill that would put more power into the hands of citizens who wish to consolidate or dissolve a municipality.

The importance of the bill cannot be understated. Gregory Krawkower, who serves as the Director of the Senate Policy Group and Special Counsel to Senate Majority Leader Malcolm A. Smith, wrote a post on the NYSenate blog explaining what the bill does. According to Krawkower, the bill will do the following:

- There is one consolidation and dissolution law that is applicable to towns, villages and special districts.  (The law applies to all special districts except school districts, which were left out of the proposal because the law governing school district consolidation is - uniquely - quite clear. Most importantly, while the number of school districts in New York have been greatly reduced, the opposite is true for other districts).

- Empowered governing bodies can initiate consolidation/dissolution process for towns, villages or special districts.

- Empowered citizens can initiate consolidation/dissolution process for all local government entities though a simplified and fair petition process.

- All land owning requirements to petition for or vote on proposed consolidation/dissolutions are abolished.

It is no secret that New Yorkers face a high property tax burden. Locally, I know that Western New Yorkers (and upstate New York) face a high tax burden that really hits hard because of our low property values. While some tout our region as a great place to live because housing is so affordable, when taxes are as high as they are, that is when they feel the pinch.

This is where consolidation and dissolution can be a key to reducing property taxes in New York. We have too many local governments in New York. You could argue that some of these governments are unnecessary. When you factor in the tax rates for these towns and/or villages and then you factor in the cost of running these municipalities, the costs outweigh the benefits.

One of the lessons I learned from taking economics in college was that, if the costs outweigh the benefits of something, whether that's running a municipality, building a coal-fired power plant or opening your own business, then you probably shouldn't go forward with that project. We all want to see more benefits than costs from our government, but right now all we see is high taxation.

This bill passed the Senate with bi-partisan support. Of the 62 senators in the chamber, 46 voted in favor of the bill.

Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith was very pleased that the bill passed, citing the need to address government waste in New York.

"Cutting wasteful government spending through government consolidation and eliminating unnecessary and costly layers of bureaucracy will reduce the crushing tax burden on millions of middle-income New Yorkers," said Senate Majority Leader Malcolm A. Smith. "During times of financial distress, we must find a way to do more with less, and that includes government. This bill empowers individual communities to determine the size of their government through a lasting process of reform that could potentially save millions in local property taxes. I applaud the Attorney General, as well as Senators Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Betty Little for their work on this legislation and their innovative approach to reducing the tax burden on New York families."

One other person who deserves to be commended is Assemblyman Sam Hoyt, who chairs the Local Governments Committee in the Assembly and has supported these efforts for a long time. He co-sponsored this bill in the Assembly and has always been a backer of local consolidation efforts.

This is a huge victory for New Yorkers and should be considered one giant step toward property tax reform in New York.