1ST HIGHLIGHT. Passage of the tax cap last June was an important step forward for mandate relief. On May 10, 2011, before the Legislature passed the tax cap, BEST4NY executive committee members Jim McCauley, Judy McGrath, an
d Howland Robinson visited Albany to support a rally in favor of the tax cap. The rally was sponsored by Long Islanders for Educational Reform (“LIFER” – see GRASSROOTS above) . There were morning speeches by endorsers of the cap. Opponents of the cap attended also – to obstruct the rally by drowning speakers out with opposition chants and to usurp the event for their own public relations purposes. Ralliers new to such tactics were shocked as their attempts to peacefully communicate their views in public assembly were obstructed by opponents bent on preventing and censoring dialog and exchange of ideas. See, e.g.:
In the afternoon, LIFER leaders, Fred Gorman et al., ralliers, and BEST4NYers McCauley, McGrath, and Robinson advocated for the tax cap in lobbying meetings with Cuomo staff member, Cassie Prugh; with Sheldon Silver’s education aide; and with Senate Majority leader Skelos and Long Island State Senator Jack Martin. Positions/factors advanced were:
- NYS property and other taxes are exorbitantly high.
- local communities desperately need mandate relief and the tax cap is a first step, Meaningful control of property taxes can only be accomplished by the Legislature which controls the mandates that are the major portion and inflaters of property taxes
- security at public events should control those who obstruct expression of views by disrupting rallies with noise and interruptions intended to prevent speakers from speaking or being heard
- either to change NYS law to provide mandate relief or voters will change the legislators who refuse to do so,
- older citizens/retirees/small business employers are priced out of New York State by high, uncontrolled, and exploding property taxes,
- towns, school districts, county governments can't cut enough local spending to solve the problem – they require relief from the mandate/NYS portion of school, town, and county budgets
2ND HIGHLIGHT: On October 19, 2011, BEST4NY participated in a public forum hosted by the Business Council of Westchester and by NYS Assemblyman Bob Castelli, and by Assemblywoman and former US Congressional candidate Jane Corwin from the Buffalo area.
Corwin and Castelli are members, and Corwin the Chair, of the NYS Assembly Minority Steering Committee. One important topic that was discussed is a bill sponsored by Democrat Assemblywoman Amy Paulin from Scarsdale to shift a Medicaid mandate out of Westchester County's budget and back into the NYS budget. In Westchester, the Medicaid mandate is 39% of the entire county budget. This worthwhile bill is co-sponsored by local Assemblyman Castelli – see:
3RD HIGHLIGHT: On October 23, 2011, BEST4NY met with Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino and discussed mutual goals and strategies for mandate reform. County Executive Astorino is a leader on this issue. See, for example, his video about mandates and the NYS Legislature’s addiction to spending and sending someone else (counties, school districts, towns) the bill:
All county Executives and all county legislators of every county legislature in NYS, all school boards and all school board members of every school district in NYS, all town boards and all town board members of every town in NYS, can best serve their constituents by following Astorino’s example in publicizing and explaining the mandate problem to the local voters who elected them and attend local public hearings about local budgets riddled with spending obligations imposed by state legislators who refuse to attend those public hearings and take public responsiblity for the spending they've imposed. Once local voters understand that each and all NYS county, town, and school budgets are subject to a similar mandate problem, they’ll understand the need to unite and mobilize voters around NYS to direct their state senators and state assemblymen to provide, instead of obstruct, meaningful and desperately needed mandate relief.
Last May, Gov. Cuomo did exactly that to get the tax cap passed. In response to NYS Senators’ and Assemblymen’s resistance to his proposed tax cap, he went above those obstructive legislators’ heads, to their bosses, the NYS voters who elect state legislators. He conducted a “People’s Tour” to explain the tax cap to voters and mobilize voters to influence their state senators and assemblymen to support the tax cap. Here’s what Cuomo did and said:
Albany, NY (May 12, 2011) “…Cuomo today continued his “People First Campaign”…and told Western New Yorkers that their voices must be heard in order to get Albany to act on these key reforms…. and asked New Yorkers to call their legislators and urge them to act… Cuomo said. “We need to pass a property tax cap…When the people speak, politicians listen and react accordingly.” http://www.governor.ny.gov/press/051211buffalo
“I believe at the end of the day, we will get it passed,” Cuomo said about a tax cap. “When the people make their voice heard, the politicians will listen. Politicians who defy the will of the people are not politicians for long. You just have to get democracy to work, which is going out explaining the situation to people, getting them organized, getting them mobilized.” http://polhudson.lohudblogs.com/2011/05/16/cuomo-pension-costs-need-to-be-curbed/ (emphasis added)
For years, locally elected county legislators, school board members, and town board members have complained directly to the NYS legislature about mandates. They’ve mostly been ignored, with no meaningful response. Why would there be? A majority of the NYS legislature supports the status quo and doesn’t care about meaningful reform or relief for over-taxed NYS residents. The whispered truth in Albany? Despite the harm to NYS and its residents, some legislators apparently don’t care if over-taxed residents leave NYS – unhappy people forced to leave no longer vote in the state and thus can’t vote against them or pose a threat to their entrenched political position. If they did care, mandate relief would already have occurred.
Local elected officials need a new strategy, namely, the Astorino and Cuomo strategy of appealing directly to the voters. Cuomo’s statewide People’s Tour for the tax cap could be a model. All local elected county legislators, school board members, and town board members in NYS should conduct mandate relief People’s Tours in their election districts and create special mandate relief pages on all of their websites. Focus on local voters to explain the problem, but focus on voters united statewide as the solution to the problem. Reach out to and engage elected officials and voters all over NYS. And encourage elected officials throughout New York State to do the same.