Press-Republican

February 20, 2012

Public hearings on state mandate relief coming up

E Council to focus on relief for local government finances

JOE LoTEMPLIO
Press-Republican

PLATTSBURGH — Members of the governor's Mandate Relief Council are hoping to make a lasting impact on how state government works for localities.

"I've always said that New York is not a one-size-fits-all kind of state," State Sen. Betty Little said.

"We have to look at these rules and regulations and see where we can make changes that will make a difference."

COUNCIL MISSION

Little (R-Queensbury) is one of 11 members of the Relief Council assigned to come up with recommendations for mandate relief. The council includes two senators, two Assembly members and seven members of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's administration.

The council was put in place in an attempt to relieve local governments of some of the burdensome and costly state mandates they have been facing for decades.

The need for mandate relief has been pushed heavily by local governments since the state enacted a property-tax-levy cap last year.

"Nothing is driving this council more than the tax cap," Little said.

LOCAL HEARING

The council will hold 10 public hearings across the state to hear from local governments and individuals about how mandates are affecting them.

The first hearing was held on Feb. 10 on Long Island. A hearing is scheduled for Friday, March 2, in Lake Placid at a time and site to be determined.

Little hopes people will speak up.

"I think there is a lot we can do. There are so many people involved in the bureaucracy of this state, and we always try to be more efficient at the top, but it doesn't always work its way down."

MANDATES TARGETED

Little said some mandates just do not make sense.

"One is in school transportation. Schools are mandated to have a school-bus seat for every kid in the district, even though not every kid rides a bus. Schools can save money there by not having to buy so many buses," she said.

One big item the council is working on is relief from the high cost of Medicaid, which all counties face. Little believes there could be some significant savings in the program.

"But we have to be careful not to just shift the cost from one pocket to another," she said.

PROMISED

Clinton County Administrator Michael Zurlo said counties need help with mandate relief in many areas.

"Obviously, to date, county governments have not seen the necessary mandate relief that was promised in conjunction with the tax-cap legislation," Zurlo said.

"It is hopeful that the council will take actions to provide meaningful mandate relief."

City of Plattsburgh Mayor Donald Kasprzak said he hopes the council listens closely to local governments.

"There is no question this council and the State Legislature must address mandate relief immediately," he said.

"Issues such as the retirement pension payments are unsustainable for many of us, and immediate relief is a must."

LOBBYING

While many may agree that certain mandates are too costly and not necessary, eliminating some of them may not be easy, Little said.

"You have to remember that for every mandate there was an advocate pushing for it, so getting rid of some of them may be difficult."

Email Joe LoTemplio at: jlotemplio@pressrepublican.com