For far too long, Albany has lived well beyond its means, funding programs and projects that do too little to help the everyday taxpayers and families of New York state. This reckless tax-and-spend approach to governing has threatened our economic prosperity by driving businesses, jobs, and young talent away from New York in search of greater opportunities elsewhere. This spending is forced upon our communities through mandates, which are programs that the state requires be provided by local governments without fully reimbursing them for the corresponding costs.
There are presently nine state mandates that consume 90 percent of the county property tax levy statewide: Medicaid, Public Assistance/Safety Net, Child Welfare, Preschool Special Education, Probation, Early Intervention, Indigent Defense, Youth Detention and pension contributions.
In Monroe County, mandated spending continues to be the single greatest challenge we face when balancing our budget. State and federal mandates account for a staggering 82-percent of our 2011 budget. This translates to having local control over only 18-percent of our tax revenue.
Each year, Monroe County enters its budget development process with the express goal of holding the line on property taxes. In doing so, our budget promotes business growth, job creation, and investment in our local economy by allowing taxpayers the freedom to spend their money in our community, and not on higher taxes.
While taxes have gone up at almost every other level of government in recent years, Monroe is among only four of New York’s 62 counties to not have raised its property tax rate since 2004. Of our five most comparable peer counties – those with large populations like Erie, Nassau, Onondaga, Suffolk, and Westchester – Monroe is the only to not have raised its tax rate over that time. In fact, the tax rate in Monroe County is lower today than it was when I first took office in 2004.
Governor Cuomo’s recent tax cap proposal is a positive first step towards tax relief for counties across New York State by ensuring that all local governments and school districts adhere to a commitment to controlling property taxes as Monroe County has done for the past seven years on our own.
However, meaningful property tax relief will likely remain a dream until statewide mandate reform becomes a reality. This is why the New York State Association of Counties has identified comprehensive mandate reform as a necessary measure to ensure the success of a property tax cap. As president of the New York State County Executives’ Association and member of the Governor’s Mandate Relief Team, I recently submitted over 200 mandate relief recommendations that would cut property taxes by billions of dollars.
The Mandate Relief Redesign Team Report clearly validates the long-held belief of county government leaders that mandates from Albany are extremely prevalent and costly for local taxpayers. However, the report does not go nearly far enough to address the serious problems we face in bringing true mandate reform and property tax relief to the hard-working taxpayers of this state. In fact, out of 231 ideas submitted to the Mandate Relief Team by county government leaders across the state, very few were included in the report.
True property tax relief will only come when the state realizes that there must be wholesale changes in the way we deliver services. It is my hope that this report does not signal the end of mandate reform efforts, but is rather a first step in beginning an immediate dialogue between the state and local government leaders. Together, we must develop a meaningful plan to reform mandates and reduce property taxes.
County leaders from across the state have taken a proactive approach and stand ready to assist Governor Cuomo and the legislature to bring real mandate reform to fruition, in conjunction with property tax cap legislation.
Without question, New York state has both the spirit and ability to flourish economically but we simply cannot move forward and reach our full potential without mandate reform. Only then will we be able to shift the conversation from capping the growth of already too-high taxes to providing real property tax relief for our residents.