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What New York really needs is meaningful (and real) mandate relief for local governments

What New York really needs is meaningful (and real) mandate relief for local governments

The governor recently announced that he would not sign a budget agreement without the tax cap being made permanent. Which is fine since the tax cap is nothing more than a public relations tool used to try to trick the residents into thinking that state politicians are actually doing something to address the high property taxes in New York.

Spoiler alert: They’re not.

Despite his theatrics, it’s interesting to watch the powerful Andrew Cuomo blame everyone else for the high taxes in this state except himself. He tries to get you to believe that it’s the federal government’s fault, or the local government’s fault, or the counties’ fault; even the weather’s fault, but certainly not his fault. We live in a one-party, top-down, command and control, Democrat-led state government and he is trying to get you to believe that he’s unable to fix any of the financial problems plaguing the state.

The fact is that the state’s tax cap does nothing to address the underlying issue that is driving up the cost of government: state mandates. It’s expensive to do business in New York and that’s true for the private sector as much as it is for the local governments across the state. There are many reasons for this, but the most impactful are the many mandates that the state pushes down to local government.

I’ll address the latest one to come out of Albany, voter reform.

New York lawmakers passed a package of voter reforms recently which includes a provision that would require polls to be open a full 10 days prior to the actual Election Day. While any reform that increases voter access to the polls is good – as long as the state places the proper protections against fraud – this reform would place a financial burden on local governments.

In this state, counties are responsible for registering voters and actually holding elections, but that doesn’t mean the county pays for it. In counties like Schenectady, the costs of all elections are pushed down to the town level as a “budgetary pass through.” This means the county racks up the bill and the local property taxpayer pays it. Now with this early voting reform, the governor and Legislature are piling on the costs that will eventually hit all taxpayers.

Elections weren’t always so expensive to run. The truth is that there was a time when towns ran elections and were responsible for the spending. In 2005, for example, when the towns ran elections in this county, the total annual cost for the town of Glenville was just $42,000. Then, the county took over running the Board of Elections and promised lower costs that would be realized due to savings from “consolidation.” Who could argue against the efficiencies of consolidation, right? Well, fast forward to 2019 when the county charged the town almost $400,000 for elections. That’s a 10-fold increase in costs in the 14 years since the county took over running the Board of Elections.

Now, we will have to add the costs of the unfunded mandate called voter reform that the state just dumped on us. Exactly what that cost may be has not been articulated or even considered by lawmakers in Albany and few are really sure how much this will end up costing. We know that increased costs of manpower to staff polling places and other operational costs will likely push an additional $500,000 or so onto the local governments. That means that early voting will likely cost the taxpayer an additional 2% in new property taxes. 

All this “reform” has led to one thing: The taxpayer paying more in property taxes thanks to the endless unfunded mandates that the state pushes on local governments that cause higher property tax bills. If state lawmakers want to increase access to the polls, they should pay for it. Otherwise it’s just another unfunded mandate.

Placing a tax cap on local governments without simultaneously enacting meaningful mandate relief is morally wrong and will eventually bankrupt our communities…but, sure, maybe it is just the weather driving everyone out after all. 

Chris Koetzle is the supervisor of the town of Glenville and the acting chairman of the Schenectady County Republican Party.

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