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Mess of mandates

Here’s how a state panel described the impact of Albany mandates on localities:
 
"Local governments feel themselves weighed down by costly and at times oppressive state legislative mandates for new functions, programs and employee benefits."
 
No, this was not authored by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Mandate Relief Redesign Team. It’s taken from a report by a state commission on local government-written 38 years ago.
 
The panel established by Mr. Cuomo pointed to this finding, and noted: "There have been innumerable reports written on the problems of mandates, yet those reports ended up on a shelf collecting dust while the problem of unfunded mandates not only continued, but got worse."
 
It’s evident the new governor wants that to change. And so do a wide array of mandate relief supporters, from the New York State Association of Counties and state School Boards Association to business groups like Unshackle Upstate.
 
So in many respects this might be the best opportunity in years-or decades-to enact long-needed reforms. Yet success by no means is guaranteed, in part because the perfect could become the enemy of the good.
 
To some, mandate relief is the sine qua non of a property tax cap. Others think only a comprehensive overhaul of all state mandates will do; hence their disappointment at the Mandate Relief Redesign Team’s preliminary report, which failed to tackle head-on the Taylor Law and the Triborough Amendment.
 
But the team’s report did come out strongly in favor of a statute banning new unfunded mandates as a "placeholder" for a constitutional amendment that would provide strong, permanent protection. It also called for a new pension tier to help rein in costs threatening local governments and school districts.
 
Let’s be clear: The mess of mandates that burden localities has piled up over many years and is fraught with complexity; no quick and easy remedy exists. So, a property tax cap should not be held hostage to all-encompassing mandate reform.
 
At the same time, failure to achieve some meaningful relief should not be an option. Equally important, the state needs an office or agency to direct the push for additional reforms.

This is work that will take time—but needs to start now.

5/20/11 (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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