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Reductions in the cost of New York State mandates would help

November 14, 2012
Westfield Republican / Mayville Sentinel News

While it would be nice if property taxes were to go down, it would be even better to know governments were cutting costs, not shifting them from one taxpayer to another.

That came to mind when the New York State Association of Counties released a report showing how the state could lower costs for county governments.

A report titled "A Roadmap to Mandate Relief" offers 51 recommendations for state lawmakers to follow through on.

The association noted in a news release the state provided some future mandate relief during the legislative session this year, including capping the growth of local Medicaid costs fully in 2015 and instituting a Tier VI pension for future public employees.

However, in the present, increasing local costs are still a problem. For county governments, the rising costs of nine state-mandated programs and services are set to outpace available property-tax revenues by $130 million in 2013 alone.

With more than 40 state-mandated programs that use local tax dollars, according to the report, it is understandable why every county should be concerned.

Fittingly, the first major cost addressed in the report is Medicaid. In Chautauqua County, the program consumes about 50 percent of the $61 million property-tax levy.

The report recommends the state fully take over local Medicaid costs. To be fair, the NYSAC recognizes it will take the state some time to generate the $7.5 billion needed, and it notes the savings from Gov. Andrew Cuomo's Medicaid Redesign Team reforms and more than $3 billion in savings identified by the counties and the state Department of Health - available when the Affordable Care Act is implemented - will help.

It would be wonderful if the state were able to start paying for the local share of Medicaid and reduce property taxes.

However, it's important for the state to reduce the costs of mandates, not simply assume their cost. The only sure way residents will see lower taxes is if the expense is reduced or eliminated.

The counties have a number of suggestions along those lines, including reducing or eliminating the amount of benefits a Temporary Assistance for Needy Families recipient gets when cohabitating with a fully employed individual, and allowing counties more flexibility in setting pay rates for individual assigned attorneys and others providing indigent defense.

Even if the state takes over a program, there is no guarantee a state resident's taxes will go down. Income taxes could rise enough to wipe out gains from lower property taxes.

The report notes many of the recommendations also provide savings to the state as well as the counties.

It should be easy to sell those ideas to the politicians in Albany.



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