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Albany must be bold in attacking unfunded mandates

By reining in government spending, putting an end to excessive tax and borrow policies, and capping local property taxes, in just eight months New York State government is looking much different form the one we have become accustomed to in years past.

Yet, in order for any such progress to produce sustainable results, we must address not only the costs facing the state, but those costs it passes on to struggling municipalities.

A recent survey of my constituents overwhelmingly indicted that taxpayers are increasingly concerned about costly state unfunded mandates and the dire effect they are having on their property taxes. That is why we must turn our attention to reforming unfunded mandates as a top priority in Albany.

Residents want their taxes lowered, not just stabilized. Parents and teachers want quality education for their children. Businesses want to hire, the unemployed want to work, and families want to remain here, where they have called home for generations.

I have sponsored comprehensive mandate relief legislation to lead the conversation over these costs in Albany and call on my colleagues from both parties to come together to produce a responsible dialogue with rational solutions.

To start, we have an unsustainable and inefficient Medicaid system that accounted for nearly 95 percent of Erie County property taxes in 2010. By allowing county governments to tailor costly non-mandated optional benefits which carry a price tag upwards of $250 million, we can more specifically reflect county resident's needs, reducing that percentage significantly.

While much has been made over crafting a more business friendly New York, to do so we must provide a level playing field for private sector employees who have fallen behind their public sector counterparts. Eliminating barriers to small business and encouraging competition is both good for the work force and healthy for the economy.

If the progress of the past eight months is truly an indication of a new model of economic efficiency here in New York, then addressing unfunded mandates must be the next hill we climb. A state spending cap and moratorium on mandates will ensure that the efforts of this year were not a one-and-done deal, and will leave the tax and spend policies of Albany's past in our rear view mirror. If we want to lower taxes, if we want the property tax cap to exceed expectations, then we must address the costs plaguing our municipalities and their taxpayers.

There are common sense solutions to these very real problems, but we must act now to address them. Given the rate of our recovery and the uncertainty often swirling around Washington, addressing unfunded mandates here in our state is the most important step we, as New Yorkers, can take to ensure our future sustainability and prosperity.

Kevin Smardz, R-Hamburg, represents the 146th Assembly District.

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