BEDFORD, N.Y. — Westchester citizen advocacy group BEST4NY aims to mobilize local governments and their constituents to pressure Albany on the issue of unfunded state mandate relief, and it brought the fight to the Fox Lane campus Tuesday.
According to the group, while counties, towns, cities, villages and school districts are already facing tough budgetary pressures due to the state’s 2 percent property tax levy cap, unfunded mandates passed down from the state increase costs for local governments, forcing them to cut essential local services and inflate property taxes.
New York State Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb (R,C,I - Canandaigua) said the lack of progress on mandate relief is not for a lack of solutions, such as two task forces assembled by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and bills like the Taxpayer Relief Act. The stumbling block is legislators in Albany who do not have the political courage to fight for the legislation, he said.
“We’re still a long ways away from significant cost relief,” he said. The key to real change is getting the message out so taxpayers understand that this issue affects their pocketbooks, Kolb said.
While Albany insists that the tax cap and Tier 6 pension reform have saved money, BEST4NY, which stands for “Better Education and Smarter Taxation 4 New York,” posits that these do not result in relief for municipalities in the short term, which is needed.
State government is camouflaging its excessive spending by passing down mandates to counties, schools and towns, a move that ultimately hurts the taxpayers in these localities, said George Oros, chief of staff for Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino.
“In Westchester, 82 cents of every dollar we collect in property tax goes to mandates in Albany,” he said.
Peekskill Mayor Mary Foster and Lisa Davis, executive director of Westchester-Putnam School Boards Association, also spoke at Tuesday’s public forum.
On the school level, Davis said, everyone wants to keep budget cuts as far away from the classroom as possible, but there has already been talk in some districts of dismantling pre-K, eliminating kindergarten and reducing funds for literacy programs.
“The end is not here because in 2012 we continue to see mandates being put on our school districts. And every mandate is well-served, it’s well intentioned, but they cost money,” she said.
Davis pointed to recent state mandates like the Dignity For All Act, the newly required cyberbullying policy that puts the burden of responsibility on the schools even if the incident happens remotely, and the largest unfunded mandate for schools: annual professional performance reviews (APPRs).