Gov. Andrew Cuomo has made no secret during his tenure that he blames New York's local governments and school districts for the state's high tax burden.
"You’re upset about paying taxes? Don’t be upset at me," the governor said in Buffalo Monday, referencing the local property tax burden that he says is 2.5 times higher than the state income tax burden.
This, he said, as he zipped around New York on his six-city "State of the State" tour like Santa Claus with a new platinum credit card, promising New Yorkers everything from free college tuition, to a $200 million 750-mile bike trail, to new rail lines and sewers and wind farms.
It's debatable exactly what percentage of the blame for New Yorkers' high tax burden can be placed on inefficient, costly and overlapping local governments and how much can be placed on a free-spending state government that passes many of the costs of its initiatives onto local governments through unfunded mandates.
But one thing isn't debatable: New York government bodies at all levels have to find a way to bring down costs so they can rein in taxes, regardless of who collects them.
One such way is for government to become more efficient. For that, Gov. Cuomo has a new idea, based on some of his old ideas.
He’s proposing that each county develop its own formal plan for finding tax savings by coordinating and eliminating duplicative services, sharing services and coordinating purchases.
The twist on this one is that each plan would have to be approved by local voters, allegedly to provide a degree of accountability.
The main part of the proposal is worth doing. Local governments should plan for ways to share services, become more efficient and take advantage of economies of scale in making purchases. And they should show citizens a road map of how they're planning to accomplish that.
But when it comes to enacting the plans and getting voter approval of them, the governor’s idea goes off the rails.
Creating a plan and putting it up for a public vote accomplishes nothing when it comes to reducing taxes if the county can't carry it out.
Consolidation and sharing of services is a complex endeavor and very specific to the needs of the government bodies involved. To enact savings, multiple government bodies led by multiple boards with divergent interests and needs have to agree to work together and then agree on terms of contracts and other such matters.
Planning is one thing. Getting it done is another. No amount of threat of voter defeat of a plan will make it happen faster or easier.
Aside from the technical difficulties of putting such plans into action, doesn’t the state forcing local governments to develop such plans represent yet another unfunded mandate from the state, the kind that drives up the property taxes the governor is trying to reduce?
Gov. Cuomo is right to continue to push local governments and school districts to reduce costs and thereby reduce taxes. And it is a good idea for local governments to develop specific plans for doing so and to share them with taxpayers.
It's such a good idea, in fact, that Gov. Cuomo should propose a similar initiative for state government.
Maybe then he'll prove that he's just as serious about reducing New Yorkers’ high tax burden as he is about finding someone to blame for it.