All NYS Senators and Assemblymen are up for re-election in November. While federal elections draw most voters' attention, much is at stake for New York State. Last June's deafening silence in Albany about mandate relief as the Legislature adjo
urned for the summer versus the noise and hoopla after the 2011 tax cap passed demonstrates the determination of a majority of the NYS Legislature to deny mandate relief and allow its own spending to escalate uncontrollably.
How does the Legislature's mandate spending addiction work? Simple – they give more food (tax money) to the favored child (state spending) by reducing the food for the other child (county/school/town spending), a/k/a their One Child Left Behind policy. Put another way, imagine that your State Senator and State Assemblyman issued themselves unlimited credit cards on your credit card account, and you must pay for whatever they buy. Since you don't have unlimited money, you are forced to spend less on yourself to pay for their escalating charges. That's the mandate problem. The Legislature's tax cap, without mandate relief, forces spending cuts by local government in order to pay for the Legislature's own uncontrolled state spending. The Legislature refuses to do (cut its own unfunded mandated spending) what it forces local government to do (cut local government spending).
Last spring, pension reform legislation was enacted. However, it was mandate relief lite that gave no immediate help for mayors, supervisors, county legislators, school and town board members who desperately want mandate relief now for over-stressed county, school, and town budgets. And as his term in office continues, Governor Cuomo seems to have lost his will to do more than nibble around the edges of the problem – he's not mobilizing the People of New York to tackle the big solutions for the Legislature's unfunded mandate crisis.
The NYS Legislature gives new meaning to the phrase, “Silence is golden.” The Legislature's mandate relief silence last June means that local gold, property taxes, continues to flow upstream to Albany in record amounts (Westchester and Rockland Counties take note HERE and HERE ) to pay for Albany's unfunded and fiscally irresponsible mandated spending. NYS Legislators who support the mandates status quo hope that voters fixated on federal elections won't notice their silence or hold them accountable and will return them to office to keep New York State on the path to bankruptcy.
Meanwhile, in counties, schools, and municipalities, layoffs, program cuts, and invading reserve funds, are the name of the game. According to the New York State School Boards Association Report, “The New Reality for Schools,” 2/3 of the NYS school districts that responded were forced to lay off teachers and staff to comply with the tax cap. Last March, Bedford's School Board President Susan Wollin courageously explained the bad news at Assemblyman Bob Castelli's budget hearing, “No amount of change we affect locally will ever be enough without systemic change in Albany…we project cutting 70, yes 70, staff positions in next year’s budget. Without systemic change to accompany the imposed tax cap, we stand to repeat this scenario annually.” Note the word – ANNUALLY.
The Bedford School budget adopted after her comments cut less than 70 for various reasons. But whether it's 70, 60, or 50, how long is a quality school system sustainable with this much financial pressure by the Legislature? The Legislature has become an architect of unemployment. Mandate relief is now a jobs preservation necessity. The Legislature's mandate policy which diverts property tax money from local needs to mandated state spending favors one child (the mandated state spending) while putting the other child (local spending) on a starvation diet.
And if layoffs haven't hit your area yet, ask your local officials about reserve funds. Reserve funds aren't manna from heaven – they are taxes you paid before that weren't spent in the year you paid them and were kept for the future. Using prepaid taxes to cover current spending doesn't reduce taxes, it just reduces what you pay in the current year. And using reserve funds, prepaid taxes, camouflages the amount of spending actually going on, since reserves don't shown on a tax bill as a reduction of the total due. The bill just shows the bottom line amount due.
What should voters do? Don't just listen to us – listen to Gov. Cuomo's advice before he lost his enthusiasm (see the video at end of the following link), “We only win this battle when we get the people engaged in communities all across this state…” If New York State is be saved from bankruptcy, we, the people, the voters, can't afford to lose our enthusiasm. Who knows? Perhaps we'll inspire the Governor to get back into the ring with us. Politics is a team sport – leader/voter partnerships get things done.
NYS voters need to create a new NYS legislative majority favoring mandate relief – one state Senator and Assemblyman at a time – either by pressuring overspending incumbents to join the mandate relief team or by electing new candidates. Voters, incumbent Senators and Assemblymen, candidates, everyone, can use BEST4NY’s Mandate Relief petition as a way to inform the public and to give legislators a MANDATE FOR MANDATE RELIEF by encouraging voters to sign the petition.
Voters – please sign BEST4NY's bipartisan online petition “NYS MANDATE RELIEF NOW!” and ask your friends to sign. Add a link to the petition to your emails. Join the 1200+ elected officials and neighors statewide from both major political parties who have already signed. such as, Assemblymen Bob Castelli, Steve Katz, Jane Corwin, Steve McLaughlin, and Ray Walter; the NYS School Boards Association; Rye Brook Mayor Joan Feinstein; Supervisors Joe Carvin (Rye), Paul Feiner (Greenburgh), and Lee Roberts (Bedford); School Board Presidents Susan Wollin (Bedford), Alyson Kiesel (Chappaqua), Ellen Baecher (Hastings-on-Hudson); Orangetown Town Councilman Troy; Orange County Legislator Day; Lisa Davis, Executive Director – Westchester Putnam School Boards Association; NYS Assembly candidates Kim Izzarelli and Kieran Lalor; Brian Sampson, Executive Director of Unshackle Upstate; and NYS Senate candidates Bob Cohen and Justin Wagner; and many other school and town board members.
Another tool for voters besides the petition is to organize a Mandate Relief public forum and information session in their community. See the upcoming events above. See the post and video link below about BEST4NY's June 11 forum in Hastings-on-Hudson – many county, school, and town elected officials are eager to speak to their communities about the mandate problem and the Legislature's failure to respond. See , LOCAL ELECTED OFFICIALS DISCUSS THEIR DESPERATE NEED FOR MANDATE RELIEF AT BEST4NY’S PUBLIC FORUM ON JUNE 11, 2012
Other examples of such forums organized by others are:
League of Women's Voters' Unfunded Mandates Public Forum in Rye, NY, on 4/21/12. Speakers included (minute 13:05) Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino followed by (minute 20:50) Rye Brook Mayor Joan Feinstein, followed by Rye Neck Union Free School District Superintendent Peter Mustich.
NYS Assemblyman Steve Katz’s Mandate Relief Press Conference on May 18, 2012