The NYS 2% TAX CAP is not an end in itself. By itself, it's unfinished business. The missing link is meaningful mandate relief passed by the NYS Legislature. The cap and mandate relief are a two step strategy to control runaway NYS spending mand
ates which make Westchester's property taxes among the highest in the nation.
Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino explains the two step here. NYS Assemblyman Robert Castelli explains it here (click on the “Tax Cap Now”) video. Unfortunately, however, the NYS Legislature has not yet provided the phase 2 mandate relief. Voters all over NYS need to urge their state Senator and Assemblyman to provide it.
As Astorino says, mandates are credit cards hidden in our county, school, and town budgets by the NYS Legislature. This is true all over NYS – not just Westchester County. The combined spending in those three budgets is the main ingredient of NYS property taxes. The legislature makes the spending decision but doesn't pay; by law, local elected officials and property owners must comply and get stuck with the bill for something they didn't choose.
By camouflaging and dispersing its mandate spending in 3 separate county, school, and town budgets, instead of the state budget, the NYS Legislature obscures the spending from public view. Transparency is lacking. Voters can't easily see what the legislature is doing and hold the legislature accountable.
Our property tax bill is a Trojan horse. Hidden inside are the mandates that are causing economic havoc in New York State, with plenty more economic pain looming in the next few years due to ballooning mandate escalations.
Need specifics? In his second State of the County address, Westchester County Executive Astorino provides mandate numbers for Westchester County :
“This year in Westchester, nine state mandates will consume three quarters of our tax levy…75 cents of every property tax dollar. We start with a property tax levy of $548 million. And each of the mandates gobbles up a portion of it.
Youth Detention ($2.9 million)
Child Welfare ($7.4 million)
Probation ($15.2 million)
Indigent Defense ($17 million)
Early Intervention ($17.5 million)
Preschool Special Education ($42.6 million)
Pension Costs ($51 million)
Public Assistance ($51.9 million)
And Medicaid, the mother of all mandates at ($211 million or 38% of the tax levy).
There you have it. State mandates have just gobbled up $416 million of our property tax dollars.”
The NYS legislature's failure to provide meaningful mandate relief simultaneously with the tax cap presents a big problem for local elected officials. Though required to satisfy the cap, they mostly have no legal power to cut the mandate portion of their budgets – so they face disproportionate cuts to their local services to meet the cap and face angry voters unaware of the Legislature's role in creating the situation. How do local officials respond?
On Sept. 20, the 5 member board of the town of Bedford voted to override the cap. They want the freedom to ignore a legislature that wants local boards to limit local spending while not limiting its own NYS mandate spending with the same cap or some other way. Said Town Board member Peter Chryssos at Bedford's 9/20/11 tax cap public hearing(click on the 9/20/11 hearing, go to minute 76.45),”The same people who year after year handed us increases in sales taxes and other types of taxes are now telling us that we have to be more responsible, and they are going to show us the way on how to manage our money. This is nothing but a shell game…It's as if, if you use the analogy that this were a corporation, it's almost as if we have a board of directors who said to us, here's what we'd like you to do, we don't want you to increase revenues – we want you to increase profits, though – and by the way I need you to hire these 10 people who are related to me and put them on the payroll. Impossible to do…I find the hubris at the state level for them to come down and tell us how we need to manage our municipal funds just unconscionable…What they're really doing is, they're funding all the things they don't have the courage to come and face you and say by the way all of this money is going for this pension plan, all the money is going for this wasted project…the difference being that all of you that are sitting here can come, pick up the phone and call us, or come here and talk us, or vote us in or out of office based on the financial decisions that we make. You don't have that with the state.”
The solution to all this? The NYS Legislature must pass meaningful mandate relief.
This is a statewide problem. Voters all over NYS must first ask their county legislators, their school boards, and their town boards to follow Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino's example and identify the mandate portions of each of their budgets. This will provide transparency and enable voters to understand the Property tax bill Trojan horse.
And after voters understand? Voters should heed Governor Cuomo's words last May when he asked voters for help in passing the tax cap:
“When the people make their voice heard, the politicians will listen. Politicians who defy the will of the people are not politicians for long. You just have to get democracy to work, which is going out explaining the situation to people, getting them organized, getting them mobilized.”
Voters all over NYS must convince their own state senator and state assemblyman to follow the lead of Assemblyman Robert Castelli and several of his fellow legislators and dedicate themselves to meaningful and prompt mandate relief. Castelli and some legislator colleagues are demonstrating courageous leadership to confront the mandate problem head on by proposing Bill no A8447, The Taxpayer Relief and Mandate Protection Act.
As Assemblyman Castelli said to the the Bedford Town Board on 9/20/11 (click on the 9/20/11 meeting, go to minute 102), “I do not mind being in the middle of the maelstrom. That's why I got elected, to address the problems not to duck them like so many people up there [in Albany] have done in the past” (and continuing at minute 106), “The state is in crisis…As I tell my friends and colleagues up there [in NYS Legislature in Albany], we've met the enemy. He is us [the Legislature]. He's not you [looking and gesturing toward the Town Board, i.e. local elected officials]…and Lord knows he is not all of you [looking and gesturing at the people in attendance, i.e. the voters] We created this problem. It is up to us to fix that problem.”
If NYS Senators and Assemblyman do not fix the problem with effective mandate relief as the voters ask them to, voters should not re-elect them. In Governor Cuomo's words, “Politicians who defy the will of the people are not politicians for long.”
Posted by H. Robinson