Gov. Andrew Cuomo appears to view municipal consolidation and sharing of services as the panacea for cash-strapped municipalities across the state.
However, consolidating services is only part of the solution. Mandate relief would be another part.
Cuomo blamed the victims Friday when he complained about local officials seeking more help from Albany. He said they instead should consolidate services or whole governments and school districts.
“If it was really, really tough, you’d see that happen,” Cuomo said. “If you are a school district, or a city, or a town or a county, and you are looking for a fundamental financial reform, consolidation is one of the obvious ones.”
Cuomo said he believes local politics is standing in the way of mergers and consolidations. Deciding to consolidate should be easy, he said, yet “politically, it’s difficult … I get the politics.”
Maybe he gets the politics, but does he understand the underlying problems?
Taxpayers in municipalities across the state shoulder the burden when their property taxes go up because of decisions made in Albany.
Local mergers, consolidation and sharing of services save money in many cases, but so would state mandate relief. State government needs to lower the mandatory costs it forces on local schools and government.
In Fulton County, the 2013 county budget totals $88.8 million. The property-tax levy necessary for the budget is $28.4 million. Of that tax-levy amount, 80 percent pays for mandates from the state.
Medicaid expenses are one of the biggest burdens on localities. New York state government only covers some of the Medicaid cost. In many states, state government pays for the entire cost.
Cuomo should realize there is no “silver bullet” that can be fired to solve municipalities’ fiscal problems. While mergers and consolidations are a big help, the state also must do its part to cut state spending, provide substantial mandate relief and take other measures to stop pushing costs onto the local property taxpayer.
Albany must lead the way on meaningful reform.