Elmira, N.Y., August 23—State Senator Tom O’Mara (R,C,I-Big Flats) is continuing to urge Governor Andrew Cuomo to sign into law legislation O’Mara co-sponsors to provide important mandate relief to local counties by requiring the state to take over the cost legal defense services for the poor, commonly known as “indigent criminal defense.”
He also urged Cuomo to begin paying more attention to the burden of unfunded state mandates on local governments and school districts. Since the state’s enactment of the two-percent local property tax cap in 2011, O’Mara has been outspoken in his criticism that the state, as the governor originally promised to secure the Legislature’s support for enacting the cap, has not followed through on its commitment to meaningful relief for counties from unfunded state mandates.
"When the tax cap was first enacted five years ago, Governor Cuomo promised that it would go hand in hand with rolling back the heavy burden of unfunded state mandates on local governments and school districts,” O’Mara said. “While there have been some important mandate relief actions since then, including long-term pension reform and the takeover of the growth in local Medicaid costs, not nearly enough has been done to ensure a future of long-term property tax reductions for local property taxpayers. We need a future defined by property tax cuts, not smaller property tax increases.”
The legislation (S8114/A10706) O’Mara co-sponsored in 2016 will phase in a state takeover of the full cost of indigent defense by 2022. It was approved by both houses of the Legislature in June and will soon be delivered to Cuomo for final action.
O’Mara said he hopes the governor will sign it into law.
“This legislation to get county governments and local property taxpayers out from under this unfunded state mandate marks a significant mandate relief action,” said O’Mara. “We need to take actions like this one if we’re ever going to truly transform the state-local partnership and lead the way to a future of property tax cuts for our local taxpayers.”
O’Mara said that the move to relieve counties locally and statewide of this unfunded state mandate, which earlier this year was identified by the New York State Association of Counties (NYSAC) as one of its top mandate relief priorities, would save counties statewide nearly $155 million a year.
A 1963 Supreme Court ruling in Gideon v. Wainwright required states to provide legal defense for criminals who cannot afford to hire their own lawyers. New York State began passing along most of the costs associated with that 1963 ruling to counties in 1965, a mandate which has caused an increasingly severe strain on local budgets and property taxpayers over the past half century.
According to NYSAC in “Real and Permanent Mandate Relief,” report released late last year, “The decision to place responsibility at the county level in the State of New York has resulted in a system that burdens property taxpayers with the majority of the costs for indigent defense, despite the fact that the constitutional right to counsel under Gideon is a state, not county, obligation. The state can improve the public defense system by incrementally increasing state funding, designing a cost-effective way to finance the system over time, and relieving counties of a responsibility delegated to them since 1965.”
Watch more on Time Warner Cable News from earlier this year, "Senator O'Mara Pushing for Mandate Relief in County Budgets"