Last December, 62 Superintendents of school districts in Westchester, Rockland, Putnam and Dutchess counties presented proposals to 13 New York State legislators and representatives for three other legislators. The Superintendents cont
end that the costs of 150 state mandates — many out of date or unnecessary — now account for close to 20 percent of a school district’s budget. See article here.
3 cheers for Superintendents pointing to the NYS Legislature as the source of the excessive mandated spending causing such huge problems for counties, school districts, and towns. The NYS Legislature creates a false impression for voters. Here’s how it works.
Local budgets of counties, schools, towns include spending by those local goverments, but also include mandated state spending inserted in local budgets by the Legislature. Mandates are an unlimited state credit card, with the bill being sent to local governments without their prior consent. Mandates are state spending which counties, schools, towns, cannot limit, only the Legislature can do that. The property tax cap doesn’t help, because it limits total spending in a local budget, not the individual spending items making up the total.
Since local governments have no legal authority to stop or limit the escalating NYS spending mandates in their budgets, but must limit total spending to comply with the tax cap, their only choice is to cut their own local spending. So while the property tax cap helps limit property taxes overall, it’s also a Legislature squeeze-play of local government. The Legislature forces local spending reductions to make room for ever-escalating state spending. It’s saying to schools, counties, towns, “We order you to cut your local spending in your budgets, so that our state spending can be a bigger part of your budget. You cut your local spending, but we won’t cut our spending in your local budgets. We’ll cap the total grocery bill, but eat all the steak and potatoes we want, while you cut back to bread and water, to keep the total grocery bill under the allowed limit.”
Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino accurately described the NYS Legislature as addicted to spending. The Legislature tries to create the opposite impression, “We’re on the wagon. We’ve changed our over-spending ways. We’ve limited our spending (but only in the NYS budget) and capped property taxes. We’ve emptied our liquor cabinet.” But the Legislature is still addicted. It drinks as much as it wants (state spending mandates in local budgets escalate despite the tax cap which only limits local spending). It hides its liquor (spending) in the neighbor’s liquor cabinet (county, school, town budgets) instead of putting it in the state budget. And it obscures how much it is drinking (total, statewide mandated spending) by dividing and dispersing it among local budgets throughout NYS. For example, if the Legislature kept the full cost of Medicaid in the state budget, instead of sending a big chunk of it to counties, the total cost of that policy would be more transparent to voters, and the Legislature would be more motivated to limit the cost, since it would have to pay the full cost out of state revenues instead of local property taxes.