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Link property tax cap, mandate relief, most say

Nearly two-thirds of respondents to this week’s RBJ Daily Report Snap Poll say a property tax cap should be tied to mandate relief.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has vowed to achieve a property tax cap and mandate relief, but last week he suggested he might not include both in a single bill; instead, he might pursue them separately.

Groups representing mayors, county executives and school boards statewide argue that local governments and school districts could not sustain a property tax cap without relief from mandated costs. The New York State Association of Counties says nine state mandates, including Medicaid, consume 90 percent of the $4.4 billion in property taxes collected statewide.

Others say enacting a property tax cap first would put pressure on lawmakers to also approve mandate relief and boost the chances that both are enacted. More than one-quarter of readers—27 percent—say a property tax cap should not necessarily be tied to mandate relief.

Eight percent of readers who participated in this week’s poll do not support a property tax cap. That compares with 10 percent in a Snap Poll conducted last August.

Cuomo is expected to propose limiting the annual growth in property taxes to 2 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is lower.

More than 480 readers participated in this week’s poll, which was conducted Jan. 17 and 18.

Should a property tax cap be tied to mandate relief?
Yes: 65%
No: 27%
Either way, I do not support a property tax cap: 8%

Here are some comments from readers:

California tried a property tax cap without also implementing mandate relief or budget restraints. The result is the effective bankruptcy of the state and its municipalities. The only viable approach for New York is to control spending, meaning: Medicaid cuts, education cuts and pension/benefits reform (defined benefit to defined contribution, health insurance deregulation). All the other proposed budget cuts (like closing parks or consolidating sewer districts) are meaningless, since they are so small by comparison. Cuomo will be judged by whether he takes on the big three drivers of New York’s encroaching insolvency.
—Bob Sarbane, financial consultant

It is time for our government officials to live within their means. We are the highest-taxed county in the nation with some of the worst schools and corrupt officials. I am tired of having my pocket picked, then hearing them whine that it’s the mandates. One thing Maggie Brooks forgets to tell you is that many of these mandates are covered by state grants! Capping the tax rate really is a smoke screen; we need tax relief!
—Michael Knox

The portrait of reform cannot be painted with one brush. Capping a major revenue stream without taking action to reduce a rising expenditure would be nothing less than a race to zero.
—Timothy Reed, Penfield

We don’t need a property tax cap; we need a mandatory property tax reduction of at least 2 percent per year, regardless of mandates. All officials, local and state, need to learn fiscal responsibility.
—Jim Weisbeck

A property tax cap will decimate the local and school budgets. “Mandate” is not a dirty word! Mandates ensure that important services are provided for the citizens. A blind cry of “No mandates!” is an uninformed and potentially dangerous demand. What mandates? What services will be lost? How will we be affected? A circuit-breaker cap, linked to individual income, will be much more effective in alleviating the financial pressure on lower-income taxpayers, while allowing reasoned discussion of budget matters.
—Lola Kelly

For too long, counties in New York have been forced to provide state-mandated services—without sufficient funds from the state to cover the costs. Who has been making up the difference? We have, in our county tax bills. Doesn’t seem quite right, does it?
—Steve Hooper, president, Health Economics Group Inc.

The property tax cap—which currently is largely undefined in its impact—is really another “unfunded mandate.” It removes the right of local citizens to vote directly on school funding. Gov. Cuomo will reduce state funding to schools and pass a tax cap—a double whammy for school districts!
—Tom Gillett, NYSUT

Local governments and school districts should not be held to a higher taxing standard than the state government. At the minimum, state pension costs need to be removed, exempted from the limit, or capped at the local level.
—Frank Muscato

Mandate relief should stand as the primary objective to relieve local budgets from the out-of-control spending that Albany has passed down to the local level. The property tax cap is a wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing approach and would only serve as yet another mandate to limit local control. Local governments remain the more effective and efficient operations that don’t need to be shackled further with a property tax cap mandate. Albany can achieve property tax relief through mandate relief!
—Don Cunningham, Unidex Corp.

This sounds great. Now all we have to do to uphold the Medicaid relief mandate is get a bill run through Congress that will start to reform it. And we might as well hit Social Security, Medicare and government employee pensions while we are at it. Well, what are we waiting for? Get on it.
—Devon Michaels, Chili

I’m tired of talking about this state’s tax issues. Just do it!
—Stanley Hilt

Of course mandates should be reduced. It’s a no-brainer. By the way, why is the tax cap 2 percent? It should be 0 percent for a minimum of 10 years. In addition, the state budget should be cut by 5 percent in each of the next five years, which would put the budget at a level of approximately $105 billion in five years. A truly effective governor would strive for nothing less than that. The current proposal by Gov. Cuomo won’t even scratch the surface. I’m not impressed with that part of his game plan.
—John Rynne, president, Rynne, Murphy & Associates Inc.

Tax cap, mandate cap—it’s all a bunch of crap. Both property taxes and unfunded mandates should be reduced 5 percent per year for the next six years to get us in line with the rest of the country. Maybe then we can keep businesses here and attract new businesses to relocate. … Come on, folks, the state is $11 billion in the hole for this year starting out, with $138 billion in indebtedness. At this point, short of going insolvent, there is no turning it around.
—Jim Duke, Victor

Mandate relief is too broad a label. Specific categories of cost reductions to the state and local levels need to be enacted.
—Mike Bleeg, Strategic Results

While it is true that a property tax cap has to be tied to reductions in spending, it is also true that a cap is nothing more than a guarantee that taxes will increase each and every year by that cap amount. I still ask why there can’t be some real courage shown and promote a reduction of 2 percent per year? Is it so darn unreasonable to ask for that? I guess not when we’re still seeing spending increases being slipped through (Cuomo’s staff, state police). Note to Mr. Cuomo: Have some real guts and LEAD, damn it!
—Rick Bradley

Despite Unshackle’s undying faith that a property tax cap will fix all, without mandate relief a tax cap will only drive up the deficit, causing increased spending on debt. The real solution is not JUST enacting a cap, but creating a situation where regional authorities in the form of city, county and village governments can have more control over their own destiny. We must decrease the burden by reducing union work force and union influence over our political process—or we’ll be doomed to a life of eternal state, county and town debt.
—Lee Drake, CEO OS-Cubed, Inc.

Better yet would be legislation to eliminate unfunded mandates altogether. Is the governor serious about reform and tax relief or not? I’m not holding my breath on either.
—Keith Robinson, Diamond Packaging

Mandate relief is the start of any budget talks or talks on anything regarding trying to save this state. The fact that we of citizens of Monroe County only have control over less than 25 percent of our budget is a travesty. Albany takes on the role of the "benevolent despot." Do we really have to look to a "king" for our well-being? I think we are better than that. How about government by and for the people?
—Karl Schuler

Since about 80 percent of Monroe County property taxes are used to pay for state-mandated expenses, there is no logical way to cap property tax increases without a related cap on mandated spending increases.
—Sam Trapani, Steriliz LLC

A mandate would render this measure useless.
—J. Blest

Absolutely not. History shows that tying issues together allows room for negotiations thus reducing the potential impact that each reform measure can create. Passing the tax cap first will pressure lawmakers to approve mandate relief.
—Jim Beauchamp

Linking tax caps to mandate reductions is to avoid fixing the real problem of local government, i.e. its sheer size. While mandates comprise a significant cost component of overall costs to be supported by taxes, they are not the sole costs. The biggest cost of government is the cost of its employees. Paying for pension plans and extraordinarily generous health plans alongside their salaries is the source of the cost. And those costs compound over time as each employee retires and yet continues to receive pension benefits that exceed those found in the private sector. Since public employee pensions are defined-benefit programs, taxpayers are forced to guarantee with their tax dollars that predetermined payments will continue unabated even if the investment climate makes that schedule of payments impossible to achieve. Taxpayers are being conscripted into underwriting a largesse granted by government administrators to its employees that is unsustainable. Reducing the size and services of local government is something that must be done. By insisting on capping property taxes only to the extent that mandates from higher levels of government are reduced is the same as saying that local government can continue on as it has without any alteration in the conduct of its business. Local government needs to be leaner, not fatter. Reducing the size of the government workforce is something that has a direct impact on the amount of tax dollars that are required to fund its operations. Reducing mandates is a separate concern that can and should be addressed by taxpayers, but how it is to be handled should not be to give local government a free pass to continue business as usual. A property tax cap is the pressure that taxpayers can apply to government as a whole that will force representatives of government at all levels to start talking with each other in ways they previously avoided. It will force them to work out formulae for fulfilling their obligation to protect citizens and to maintain infrastructure within a budget that is set by the citizenry and not by a select group of their own that believes taxpayers are an inexhaustible fountain of money to which government may come to drink freely and as desired. Let’s put a cap on the pipe and force government to start acting in a responsible manner that respects not only the needs of a community and the availability of resources but also the right of citizens to do something with their money other than just storing it temporarily until its real owner, the government, comes knocking to claim it.
—Robert DeFazio, Calabria Consulting

Cut welfare, cut pensions, cut salaries, cut jobs. The state, county, local and school governments have been screwing us for years! Now it’s our turn! By the way, whoever (school boards) started the requirement that to vote for a school budget, you only had to be 18 and didn’t have to own property (that the taxes are based on)?
—B. Schicker

We need to stop driving jobs, new business and our best and brightest away from the state. Start by capping property taxes.
—Mike Rumrill, CEO, Leader Professional Services Inc.

We need to cap property taxes, sales taxes and every other tax. Then we need to start lowering the caps. We are driving too many businesses and productive people out of New York. The politicians need to start spending the tax money that they take in a more efficient way. We need less regulation and fewer bureaucrats, with significantly reduced pay packages.
—Dennis Ditch, Delta Square Inc.

A 2 percent tax cap means the legislators, given the opportunity, will spend 2 percent more. What is really needed is a spending reduction of at least 5 percent each year for the next four years.
—Michael Shacket, Corner Office Consulting, Inc.

(c) 2011 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or e-mail rbj@rbj.net.



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