Gov. Andrew Cuomo knows New York simply doesn’t have the money to accommodate all the cities, towns and school districts that want more money from him, nor is he even remotely inclined to raise the money through tax hikes. Tough luck, he basically told them last week — but at least he gave the struggling municipalities a way out. If only they’d listen.
New York maintains upwards of 10,000 local governments, school districts, fire and library taxing districts. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that this is a model of inefficiency — with taxpayers supporting far more bureaucracies and paying for more duplications of service, than they need to — and has been for decades.
Why has so little been done to combine these municipal service providers to make their operations more efficient? Cuomo hit the nail on the head when he cited “politics. Officials don’t want to give up their authority, workers their jobs, and even many taxpayers would rather pay more than lose what they consider their “identity”: More often than not, when there’s a vote over whether to combine a couple of school districts, or fold a village government into the town it’s located in, people say no (as they did in the Saratoga County village of Victory Tuesday).
It used to be that municipalities would simply raise taxes to finance this luxury, but thanks to Cuomo’s tax cap, their ability to do so has been reined in. It’s creating havoc and understandable resentment, since state mandates are in many ways responsible for local governments’ headaches, but the state can’t afford to take over those obligations any more than locals can afford to pay for them.
Cuomo is right that mergers would be the best solution to the problem, and he (and his predecessors) have provided a variety of financial incentives to encourage the practice. But until the public becomes less reluctant, governments won’t pursue this option.