New Your State School Boards Association

Diverse Coalition Calls on Lawmakers to Enact Mandate Relief and Fulfill Promises Made Prior to Passage of Tax Cap


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Media Contact: Al Marlin, (518) 783-3723 or (518) 527-6933

For Release: June 3, 2014

Diverse Coalition Calls on Lawmakers to Enact Mandate Relief
And Fulfill Promises Made Prior to Passage of Tax Cap

A statewide coalition of groups representing businesses, local governments and schools today urged state lawmakers to enact a package of mandate relief measures before the end of the legislative session.

Noting that state lawmakers pledged to provide mandate relief to schools and local governments during passage of the tax cap in 2011, the “Let NY Work” Coalition today highlighted six mandate relief measures that, if enacted, would help ease the financial burden on municipalities – and help them comply with the state’s property tax cap and recently enacted property tax freeze.

The six items in the Coalition’s mandate relief package include:

  • Freezing step increases when contracts expire. The state’s Triborough Amendment allows so-called “step increases” – or salary increases – for public employees to continue under an expired contract. This places a financial burden on school districts and municipalities and provides a disadvantage in collective bargaining, as they must continue to provide salary increases even with no contract in place.

  • Controlling construction costs. Lawmakers should enact a number of measures that would reduce the costs of public/private construction projects. These items include making permanent the use of Design Build as an alternative project delivery method, increasing the Wicks Law threshold to $10 million across the state, and enacting the Public Construction Savings Act, among other initiatives.

  • Providing portable pension benefits. To help control the volatility of pension contributions made by local governments, New York should offer public employees at the state and local level a defined contribution pension option.

  • Redefining Compulsory Arbitration. The statute governing binding arbitration should be amended to specifically define “ability to pay” as the ability of a public employer to pay all economic costs imposed on it by an arbitration award without requiring a reduction of municipal services or an increase in the level of real property taxes. The statute should also require the arbitration panel to deliberate in public and present its decision at a public meeting.

  • Capping health insurance costs. Finally, state lawmakers should limit the employer contribution to health insurance for employees of schools and local governments to no more than 85 percent of a healthcare premium for individuals, or 75 percent for families or retirees. Moreover, if the employer contribution rates in state contracts decrease, then local contracts should follow the same reduction in the next negotiation cycle.

  • Prohibiting new unfunded mandates. The state should not impose any mandates on municipalities, school districts and taxpayers unless it provides full funding to implement those mandates.

“The property tax cap was an historic step to finally place a meaningful control on the cost of government in New York State and its burden on taxpayers,” said Brian Sampson, executive director, Unshackle Upstate. “Unfortunately, the success of the cap was always predicated upon the enactment of meaningful and structural mandate relief. Not until New York gets serious about eliminating the cost drivers that keep our property taxes among the highest in the nation – the Scaffold Law, Wicks Law and the Triborough Amendment, among others – will New York actually achieve the real reform necessary to get the upstate economy moving and its population growing.”

“Three years ago the property tax cap was enacted and the effort to reform the unsustainable cost drivers plaguing our schools and communities was thought to be underway. Unfortunately, outside of the pension reform in 2012, these unfunded state mandates remain largely untouched,” said Mike Durant, state director for NFIB. “The property tax burden remains a major barrier to economic growth and is limiting the ability of local governments to provide the efficient high levels of service our families and children need. This unprecedented coalition once again is advancing sensible comprehensive mandate relief which will dramatically reform the fiscal climate of New York, open doors to economic growth and provide real property tax savings to New Yorkers.”

“Schools and local governments have faithfully abided by the property tax cap. While lawmakers have provided some mandate relief, they must do more to help schools stay within the cap and operate more efficiently,” said David Little, director of governmental relations for the New York State School Boards Association. “With both the tax cap and the tax freeze now in place, it’s time for state lawmakers to fulfill their commitment to provide meaningful mandate relief.”

“Through painful cuts and consolidations – and while faced with stagnant state aid – the vast majority of local governments have complied with the three years of the tax cap,” said Peter Baynes, NYCOM executive director. “Local officials across New York will continue to do all they can within existing state laws to reduce municipal spending, including more in the area of shared services and consolidation, but they will succeed only if the state gives them the necessary tools. Various state mandates, including collective bargaining requirements, are the primary barriers to controlling costs at the local level. Legislative reform of these mandates, and the many others that obstruct local efficiency, would guarantee meaningful and sustainable property tax relief for all New Yorkers.”

“The property tax cap did nothing to address the forces driving local tax increases,” said Robert Reidy, executive director of the New York State Council of School Superintendents. “Instead, state lawmakers left it to local leaders – and voters – to make the tough choices needed to live within the cap while protecting valued services. School Aid increases of the last two state budgets have helped, but over half our districts are still getting less aid than in 2008-09, six years ago. Many district leaders still have grave fears about prospects for their schools. State government finally needs to act on meaningful mandate relief, to give all districts a chance to protect services their students need.”

“With the clock ticking down on this year’s session, there is precious little time to fulfill the ultimate promise of the tax cap law. The cap by itself is half a loaf and will never reach its fullest potential of being an economic game-changer without mandate relief. Step one towards stimulating New York’s economic engine must be reform of our antiquated Scaffold Law. Send a message, Albany, that the commitment to getting New Yorkers back to work is more than a slogan,” said Duncan R. MacKenzie, chief executive officer, New York State Association of REALTORS.

“Much has been accomplished in the last few years in terms of the budget, tax relief and creating the conditions for economic growth upstate,” said Garry Douglas, President of the North Country Chamber of Commerce. “But we must do considerably more to address the unsustainable state mandates which make up too much of the cost of local government and school districts, resulting in property taxes which are too high and the waste of precious tax dollars. This agenda lays out a pathway which would help every upstate taxpayer and homeowner, foster economic growth and actually allow the enhancement of education and local services.”

“New York’s municipalities are subject to over a billion dollars in litigation costs every year. By supporting the Let New York Work agenda, legislators can stem the tide of litigation against our schools and municipalities, and put our tax dollars to better use on infrastructure, teachers and jobs,” said Tom Stebbins, executive director of the Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York.

“In order to attract and retain the businesses we need to grow our economy, there needs to be a concerted effort to rein in the mandated costs that drive our property tax base sky high,” said Bill Mooney, CEO of the Westchester County Association. “The tax cap was a great first step and now substantive mandate relief needs to follow. Having the business community joined by local government and school groups with one common agenda, sends a powerful message to our elected officials in Albany.”

“While the 2014-15 New York State budget addressed some important tax relief components for employers across the state, it did not address the underlying cost driver of mandates and the desperately needed relief for municipalities,” said Dottie Gallagher-Cohen, president & CEO of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership. “Until mandate relief is properly addressed by enacting the reforms detailed in the Let New York Work agenda, successes like the property tax cap and the creation of Tier VI will not be as impactful as they can and should be. The Legislature and Governor must address mandate relief, including Scaffold Law, the Triborough Amendment, the lack of permanent design-build, and the Unfunded Mandate Reform Act before the end of the 2014 session.”

 

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