Mandate Relief: A Proposal

Localities across NYS have been begging for ‘mandate relief’ for years, but their appeals have fallen on deaf ears in Albany. Until now governors and legislators have been loath to give localities a break on requirements they felt were necessary when they passed them. The concept threatens to open a Pandora’s box of allowing localities to ignore Albany’s dictates whenever they feel like it.

At the same time, we know that many of these same localities are teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. Just this week Moody’s Investors Service reiterated its negative outlook for local governments across the country. (See: http://www.moodys.com/research/Moodys-Outlook-for-US-local-governments-remains-negative-in-2013–PR_266803) Facing heavy public safety budgets and rapidly expanding pension obligations they cannot afford, localities are screaming for help.

Gov. Cuomo’s solution is to allow them to borrow against future savings. Not only is this questionable in terms of whether the NYS Constitution allows it, but it’s another short-term solution. What happens if that’s not enough?

Here’s a solution that addresses both short term and long-term needs.

The Governor and Legislature should offer temporary mandate relief to localities in proportion to the extent to which they move either to share services or merge with other jurisdictions.

In other words Albany ought to offer this carrot: We’ll give you a break on certain mandates if you show us that you are capable of finding solutions to local governance that cost taxpayers less while improving the quality of the services you deliver.

Mandate relief ought to match up with the specific efficiency improvement employed. In other words, if two school districts merge there ought to be a list of education mandates the combined district can choose to ignore for the next three or five years while they manage the transition. Same with towns, villages, cities or counties that incorporate other jurisdictions. So, if the city of Schenectady dissolves its governmental functions into the County, the County would be given temporary relief from having to comply with cumbersome mandates to help it digest the added obligations.

The State must continue to offer consolidation assistance so that localities don’t offer the excuse of they don’t know how to do it.

I would not, however, like this concept to defer the State from looking at mandate relief that it can offer across the board. There are surely some requirements that no longer make sense in proportion to the cost imposed on the localities. Some mandates, however, ought to be retained and state officials will be able to make a stronger case for those when unneeded mandates are eliminated.

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