Poughkeepsie… State imposed mandates. Residents and business owners hear a lot about them, particularly when it comes to county government budgets. But what exactly are they and why should the property taxpayer care about them?
“It’s simple - state imposed mandates are why New York homeowners and businesses continue to pay the highest property taxes in the nation,” said Dutchess County Executive William R. Steinhaus. “Right now, there is a lot of talk by Albany politicians about a property tax cap, but the way to provide real property tax relief is to first reform New York State’s out of control mandate system.”
Mandates are the policies and laws established by the Governor and the New York State Legislature which require counties to provide specific programs and services.
“We are told by the state that county governments MUST provide a particular service and we MUST pay for it,” said County Executive Steinhaus.
State mandated programs are the largest cost centers for Dutchess County government, consuming the entire local county property levy. According to the New York State Association of Counties (NYSAC), just 9 state mandates consume 90% of the county property tax levy across the entire state.
These mandated programs include:
- Child Welfare
- Temporary Assistance/Safety Net
- Indigent Defense
- Early Intervention
- Preschool Special Education
- Youth Detention
Local county officials have little control on how these programs operate. The state dictates how these programs and services operate and can restrict local officials from applying operating efficiencies and other innovations that could help control costs.
Even more frustrating for county officials is the continuing practice by state senators and assemblymen of reducing funding commitment to counties in order to deal with the state’s own fiscal mismanagement, while still dictating the same level, or even greater levels, of services to be provided by county governments.
“Mandates choke county budgets and leave fewer and fewer dollars for ‘discretionary’ programs such as road maintenance, Sheriff’s services, veterans’ services, youth programs, park facilities and other programs that are locally important to residents,” said County Executive Steinhaus.
Here is a look at just a few of the state programs Dutchess County government is mandated to deliver and fund without discretion on how they operate, consuming property taxpayers’ dollars:
- $41.8 million in projected county costs for 2011, a mandated increase of $1.2 million over 2010.
New York passes far more of its Medicaid cost burden on to local county governments than any other state in the nation. New York State’s program is the most expensive in the nation and is often referred to as the “Cadillac” model among all Medicaid programs nationwide.
- Pre School Special Education for Handicapped Children
- NYS share of cost 59.5%, County mandated share is 40.5%
- Projected mandated cost for Dutchess County government in 2011: $16.3 million
This is a prime example of how the State illogically doles out its mandate edicts. County governments do not have education departments. Both Federal and State law place responsibility for the program with the educational system and give all decision-making authority to school districts. Yet New York State requires county government to bear all of the financial costs, creating no motivation for school districts to seek cost savings or operational efficiencies.
State Officials renege on funding:
Additionally, the Pre-School Special Education program is an example of where state senators and assemblymen have reneged on funding commitments. In 1989, State law was created to reduce county governments’ fiscal liability for program costs to 25% by the 1993-94 school year. However, elected state officials have continuously reneged on this commitment in efforts to balance the State Budget by decreasing the state’s portion of the program costs. If New York State honored its own statutory commitments, Dutchess County government’s 2011 cost for the program would be $2.4 million less. Steinhaus said, “Only in New York can state politicians get away with breaking the laws they pass.”
- Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and TANF Safety Net
- TANF is funded 25% County, 25% New York State and 50% Federal.
- TANF Safety Net is funded 50% County and 50% State
- Dutchess County government TANF costs are projected to be as high as $17 million in 2011.
Here is a prime example of how the State dictates how the program must operate regardless of cost or effectiveness:
An individual on Temporary Assistance may receive $367 per month, which includes a $216 shelter stipend. Under TANF Safety Net, the Department of Social Services is mandated to shelter homeless individuals, often in hotel rooms. Using a $100 per night average, one month of hotel costs can total a staggering $3,000. The $2,784 difference between the total bill and the individual’s $216 stipend is mandated to be split equally between the County and the State at cost of $1,392 each.
In 2009, Commissioner of Social Services Robert Allers sent a proposal to the New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA) recommending the shelter stipend be raised to $500 per month. For $500/month, an individual would be able to pay rent for a furnished room or small studio apartment, providing a more permanent housing solution and eliminating the need for costly hotel stays.
Here is how the per person cost compared:
Inexplicably, Albany rejected this proposal as not cost effective, despite the clear savings to both the state and the county.
“This is a huge frustration,” said County Executive Steinhaus. “Here is a county proposal to make real, cost effective change to benefit both the resident receiving the service and the property taxpayers who pay for it, yet the State stonewalls us and says no while costs to property taxpayers continue to soar. Even more incredible is the state has been facing its own fiscal crisis and still chose to ignore a cost savings opportunity.”
“These are important and worthy programs, but when the State ties our hands and expects local property taxpayers to pick up the tab, it simply becomes too much,” concluded County Executive Steinhaus.
“We are hearing a lot of political rhetoric on the campaign trail about ‘capping property taxes’ as various political candidates try to convince voters to send them to Albany. A property tax cap is not the only answer. Instead, what we should be hearing about, and more importantly seeing action on, is state mandate reform. What most people do not realize is decisions made in Albany about mandated programs and services are what determine their local county property tax bill. New York State must reform these programs that directly impact local property taxes.”
“A property tax cap simply cannot work without state mandate reform in Albany. State representatives need to go to the root of the problem and restructure state programs and policies, not just shift these excessive program costs to county property taxpayers via mandates.”