Lockport Union-Sun & Journal Online

February 1, 2013

OUR VIEW: Mandate relief escapes Cuomo

Lockport Union-Sun & Journal

Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — Gov. Andrew Cuomo talks a big game on many issues, but when it comes to one of his favorite talking points — mandate relief — his game is decidedly minor league. Low minors.

These mandates — generally referred to as “unfunded mandates” by local governing bodies — are payment requirements demanded by the state on cities, towns and school districts without providing fiscal relief. It’s a major drag on the system particularly at the local level.

Quite simply the governor is not tackling this issue, which, if it’s not the single most obstructive for local governments trying to reduce costs, it’s easily in the top three.

Cities are struggling for real mandate relief and all that has been offered by New York state is the so-called 2 percent tax cap. Unfortunately, this “cap” can be circumvented by public vote and it doesn’t apply when contributions to retirement systems exceed two percent growth, which occurs almost annually.

So, where’s the real relief?

School districts and municipalities are facing double-digit increases in health care contributions. Retirement systems are also expensive, led by police officers and firefighters — generally the highest-paid employees in cities and towns. Furthermore, these two bargaining groups usually set the standard for other bargaining units. The state’s antiquated Taylor Law with its binding arbitration further muddles the picture.

With some bargaining contracts permitting full retirement after as few as 20 years, there are public employees who could theoretically retire at age 41 with full benefits and cushy pensions.

These sweetheart deals are forcing local lawmakers and school officials to make some distasteful decisions: What do you cut and how deep?

Mandate relief in New York state? Thanks to Gov. Cuomo and state legislators, that 2-percent cap is nothing but an illusion.