EDITORIAL: State must give relief to local governments over coronavirus

Relieve school districts, counties, municipalities of costly mandates in wake of covid economic catastrophe
A Carman fire truck leads a parade of Mohonasen Central School District teachers in a parade earlier this month
PHOTOGRAPHER:
A Carman fire truck leads a parade of Mohonasen Central School District teachers in a parade earlier this month

Categories: Editorial, Opinion

Dear ol’ dad used to say that crap rolls downhill.

Well, if you’re a local government standing at the bottom of that hill, you’d better have a raincoat, galoshes and a plunger ready. Because the storm is coming, and it’s going to land squarely on you and your taxpayers.

The coronavirus has devastated state government finances and some are saying it could be at least three years, and maybe longer, for the economy to get its feet back under it.

For local governments and school districts counting on assistance from the state to prop up tight budgets limited by an infinitesimal property tax cap and stressed by growing pension and Medicaid expenses, the impact is going to come hard and fast.

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Gov. Andrew Cuomo, introducing a financial plan for the state over the weekend predicted that aid to localities could be cut by $8.2 billion unless the state gets help from the feds.

As we’ve said, New York’s new budget reality is going to require looking at government a whole new way, adopting new spending practices and seeking out new revenue sources. 

The old tax-and-spend way isn’t going to work for taxpayers in the new economy.

One way the state could relieve some of the pressure on local governments, and by extension local taxpayers, is by taking major steps to reduce the costs it passes down the hill through unfunded mandates.

It’s time New York look at whether the mandates passed down counties, municipalities and school districts are necessary to the administration and function of government.   Those that aren’t should be lifted or modified.

The New York State Association of Counties (NYSAC) last year issued a report highlighting more than 40 mandates either unfunded or underfunded by the state, including state-defined and controlled programs.

Each year, according to NYSAC, county and New York city taxpayers send more than $12 billion to Albany to pay for nine major state programs. And each year, the burden grows.

The Empire Center, a government watchdog think tank, on Monday outlined seven recommendations for the state recovery. 

Among them were mandate relief focusing on rules covering personnel, procurement and contracting. It also said governments and school districts need greater flexibility to deploy their workforces more efficiently, which would require the state to sign off on.

Governments also need to reduce non-essential operations and programs, and have more authority to contract work to the private sector. Mandates that increase government wages and benefits should be reconsidered.

To help their state brethren along, local government officials should compile a list of the mandates they believe can be reduced or eliminated and submit it to lawmakers.

If, as they say, we’re all in this together, then state government has to find a way to provide spending relief to local governments.

Lifting unnecessary and costly mandates is one way to do it.

 

 

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