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NEW YORK NEEDS THIS RELIEF SPELLED M-A-N-D-A-T-E-S, IT MEANS LESS PAIN

EARLY in December, Gov. Cuomo recommended that the State Legislature save local governments an estimated $300 million in the next fiscal year by revising what the state requires of them.

Added over the years, these mandates or rules control the administration of programs such as Medicaid or the borrowing of funds by local governments. And over the years, some mandates have become rigid, choking off useful discretion and imposing unnecessary chores and costs.

Although Cuomo's package was shaped in part and enthusiastically supported by leading county officials across the state, including those in Erie County, the Legislature failed to enact it.

Gov. Cuomo called that a "missed opportunity," which it assuredly was.

He rightly plans to resubmit the reforms to the Legislature when it convenes next month. Then, with more time to study the proposal, the Legislature ought to support it as a positive contribution to both efficiency and to helping local governments and taxpayers cope with reductions in state and federal aid.

The Cuomo proposal would tighten controls on Medicaid, the big-buck growth factor in county costs here and across the state, and improve a municipality's authority to manage the delivery of home-care services.

Besides being expensive, Medicaid presents a classic example in New York of a program that state and federal governments wrap in smothering mandates, leaving counties little discretion even though their residents must share substantially in its costs.

Similarly, the Cuomo program would revise rules of eligibility for welfare applicants. There is no persuasive reason why, for example, counties should not be able to require the able-bodied unemployed to participate in programs designed to rid them of alcohol or chemical-abuse problems if those persons want to receive Home Relief.

In another area of possible savings, complicated state-imposed procedures govern the way counties must borrow money. Some are desirable. But others -- freighted with fees going to this or that interest, and exceeding normal safeguards utilized by private borrowers -- could be streamlined and their costs lessened.

This sort of change, combined with proposals to widen the capacity of local governments to raise revenues, make up what Cuomo calls "mandate relief."

The State Legislature may want to explore details of the reform in the winter session, but it should avoid getting bogged down in details. The controlling purpose is to free counties and other local governments from red tape and wasteful expense.

If it will save local governments $300 million a year, the changes are worth the effort.

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