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Editorial: Pass bills to cut unfunded mandates

Editorial: Pass bills to cut unfunded mandates

Either pay for state mandates on local governments and school districts or stop issuing them
Editorial: Pass bills to cut unfunded mandates
State Capitol Building in Albany.
Photographer: PETER R. BARBER

New York state has the second highest combined state and local tax burden in the nation, and New Yorkers are flocking to other states to escape it.

One way to help alleviate both situations is for our representatives in Albany to stop conjuring up new regulations and requirements, which they then pass on to local governments’ and school districts’ taxpayers without providing the funding needed to pay for them.

These unfunded mandates force local governments and school districts to either drive up local property taxes to pay for them or to divert money away from other programs.

The mandates not only deprive localities of money, but of flexibility in the way they govern and spend local tax dollars.

Several bills pending this legislative session, including some with sponsors in both houses of the Legislature, have a chance to bring some relief.

One bill, cosponsored by local Assembly members Angelo Santabarbara and Carrie Woerner and Sen. Kathleen Marchione, would eliminate unfunded mandates altogether. This bill (A2922/S2323) requires programs that originate from the state to be paid for by the state except when ordered by the court or requested by the local government or school district.

There you go. No unfunded mandates. Either the state funds them or it doesn’t impose them. That’s the best solution.

But it’s not the only one.

Another bill (A385/S990) would prohibit the state Board of Regents and the state Education Department from imposing unfunded mandates on school districts without getting approval from both houses of the Legislature. That should act both as a deterrent to educational leaders proposing unfunded mandates and provide another layer of scrutiny. 

Another bill, (A2295) would put responsibility for unfunded mandates directly on the governor and Legislature by requiring the governor submit each year a plan to repeal or revise unfunded mandates. The would then have to vote on the plan. That would force both the governor and Legislature to put on the record each year their support or opposition to specific cuts. A similar bill (S5828) would require that any proposed unfunded mandates be accompanied by a fiscal impact statement and require the comptroller’s office to conduct an ongoing study of the impacts of unfunded mandates.

One of the most extreme attempts to curb unfunded mandates (A1680) would place a three-year moratorium on any unfunded mandates that would cost more than $10,000 each or $1 million statewide. It also would require bills imposing mandates to contain fiscal impact notes to state the estimated financial impact on the governments affected. And it would require the state’s dormant Mandate Relief Council to review existing mandates to determine which ones should be eliminated.

The moratorium would give the body time to complete that extensive review.

Of course, the best way to curb taxes is to cut excessive and wasteful state spending and to eliminate regulations that drive up construction and pension costs on the local level.

But short of that, any measure that limits state government’s ability to impose mandates should be given strong consideration.

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