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The Steuben Courier Advocate
  • O’Mara, Friend seek state funding for new mandates

  • Two local state legislators are sponsoring bipartisan legislation that would bar New York from imposing new unfunded mandates, which eat up 90 percent of county tax levies statewide.

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  • Two local state legislators are sponsoring bipartisan legislation that would bar New York from imposing new unfunded mandates, which eat up 90 percent of county tax levies statewide.
    Sen. Tom O’Mara and Assemblyman Chris Friend, both R-Big Flats, are backing twin bills that would require the state to fund any program that imposes a mandate on municipalities and school districts. The requirement would apply only to future mandates.
    “The state enacted the local property tax cap with a promise to localities and school districts to roll back the heavy burden of unfunded state mandates,” O’Mara said. “We still have a lot of work to do to lift that existing burden on local governments and local property taxpayers. But we should also immediately put an end to any future unfunded state mandates ... If the state mandates a program or a service, the state should pay for it.”
    Unfunded state mandates are programs that the state requires but does not fund. Municipalities and school districts have little control over the mandated programs but are forced to pay for them.
    Statewide, 90 percent of property tax revenue raised by counties is used to pay for unfunded mandates, according to the New York Association of Counties. In Chemung County, the entire tax levy, plus nearly 40 percent of the county’s sales tax revenue, goes to state-mandated programs.“I think that (the legislation) would be a great step going forward,” Chemung County Executive Tom Santulli said. “I’m not sure what new unfunded mandates the state has in mind. At least we’d know where we’re at. “But I think the state government should keep their first commitment. When the Legislature and the governor proposed the tax cap, they said they’d do aggressive mandate relief. That never occurred.”
    O’Mara said the state has taken some meaningful mandate-relief steps, including long-term pension reform and the takeover of the costs associated with Medicaid growth, but more has to be done.
    “Mandate relief has to remain a state priority,” O’Mara said. “Localities and school districts facing tough fiscal challenges still have their hands tied by too many unfunded state mandates.”
    Like municipalities, school districts have been significantly impacted by unfunded mandates and the property tax cap.
    “I think I can speak for every superintendent in the state in saying this potential legislation is long overdue and very much appreciated,” said Superintendent Mike Ginalski of the Corning-Painted Post school district, which has seen significant layoffs and program cuts in recent years, with more possible as the district prepares its budget for the 2013-14 school year.
    The legislation, which O’Mara said would also give the state’s Mandate Relief Council a stronger role in policing mandates, has a GOP sponsor and cosponsor in the Republican-led Senate. The Democratic-led Assembly’s version is being sponsored by a Democrat, with cosponsorship from another Democrat and Friend.
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