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Cuomo Says He’ll Address Burden Of Unfunded Mandates

In his first address to the New York State Legislature on Wednesday, Jan. 5, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced the signing of an Executive Order to create a team of private and public sector individuals charged with finding ways to cut the “unfunded and under-funded mandates that help make New York one of the most taxed states in the nation.”

The “Mandate Relief Redesign Team” (“Team”) will review unfunded and under-funded mandates imposed by the New York State government on school districts, local governments, and other local taxing districts. Such mandates include legal requirements that a local district provide a program, project, or activity on behalf of the state.

The team – which will include representatives from private industry, education, labor, and government – will look for ways to reduce the costs of mandated programs, identify mandates that Cuomo stated are ineffective and outdated, and determine how school districts and local governments can have greater ability to control expenses.

“Families as well as businesses are leaving New York because they can no longer afford to be here,” said Governor Cuomo. “These unfunded and under-funded mandates are one reason why taxes are so high, and this new Mandate Relief Redesign Team will begin a top-to-bottom review of the system to help bring needed relief to taxpayers.”

The Governor will appoint up to 20 members of the Mandate Relief Redesign Team, including:

• Larry Schwartz, Senior Advisor to the Governor, will serve as a Chair of the Team; the Governor may appoint additional Chairs

• Representatives of organized labor, businesses, school districts, and municipalities

• State officers with relevant expertise

• Four members of the New York State Legislature: one recommended by each of the Speaker and Minority Leader of the Assembly and the Temporary President and Minority Leader of the Senate

• The Lieutenant Governor and Director of the Budget will serve as non-voting members

Cuomo said the team will begin working by Jan. 7, and will submit a first set of recommendations to the Governor by March 1, 2011 for consideration in the Fiscal Year 2011-12 budget process. The team will continue its review until the end of Fiscal Year 2011-12.

Unfunded and underfunded mandates drive up costs of schools, municipalities, and the property taxes that support them. Due in part to these mandates, New York now has some of the highest taxes in the nation. For example:

• New York has the highest local taxes in America as a percentage of personal income - 79 percent above the national average.

• New York has the second highest combined state and local taxes in the nation.

• Median property taxes paid by New Yorkers are 96 percent above the national median.

• Property tax levies in New York grew by 73 percent from 1998 to 2008 - more than twice the rate of inflation during that period.

• When measured in absolute dollars paid, Westchester, Nassau, and Rockland are respectively the first, second and fifth highest-taxed counties in the nation.

• When property taxes were measured as a percentage of home value in 2009, nine out of the top 10 counties in the nation were all in Upstate New York.

Executive Director of the New York State Association of Counties Stephen J. Acquario said, “For years, counties have fought to reform state mandated services delivered at the local level. These mandates have contributed in large part to the exorbitant property taxes that are forcing families and businesses out of the state and shutting down farms. NYSAC welcomes Governor Cuomo’s creation of a team to address the mandates that have overburdened taxpayers and local governments throughout New York, and looks forward to working toward real property tax relief.”

Executive Director of the New York State Association of Towns G. Jeffrey Haber said, “Governor Cuomo’s fiscally prudent vision shows he is paying attention to the mandates that have increased the property tax levy on local families. The Association of Towns stands ready to work with Governor Cuomo and the Legislature to reduce costs and help struggling taxpayers. Mandate relief is essential to property tax caps being implemented.”

Peter A. Baynes, executive director of the New York State Council of Mayors said, “Governor Cuomo’s creation of a team to examine how oppressive mandates are crippling local governments, including cities and villages, is a welcome relief from years of inaction. We look forward to working with his administration to alleviate the burdens that mandates place upon property taxpayers.”

Executive Director of the New York State School Boards Association Timothy G. Kremer said, “We welcome Governor Cuomo’s willingness to tackle mandate relief for schools. School board members are eager to work with the Governor and the Legislature to give school boards the tools they need to operate more efficiently. If we don’t address longstanding cost-drivers now, then schools will find themselves in a similar fiscal crisis during the next economic downturn.”

CEO of the NYS Realtors Association Duncan MacKenzie said, “For too long, too little has been done to address the crushing burden of property taxes made by arduous mandates in New York State. Governor Cuomo’s push for a real cap on property taxes and an end to the expensive impositions placed on local governments is sound, necessary, and realistic.”

Brian Sampson, executive director of Unshackle Upstate said, “Upstate homeowners cannot afford to continue subsidizing state spending that has spun out-of-control in recent years. Governor Cuomo’s plan to cap property taxes and deliver relief from state mandates marks a giant first step toward reversing that trend.”