By Joseph C. Lorigo
On Feb. 16, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo came to Western New York touting his plan that government cooperation is the solution to lower property taxes. While it’s nice to hear the governor’s continued claims that he is doing everything he can to lower taxes, the fact is he has continually ignored the No. 1 reason New York State taxes are so high: unfunded mandates.
Erie County’s budget is 90 percent state and federal mandates. Less than two hours before the governor’s press conference, Erie County’s budget director testified that the No. 1 driver of our local property taxes is unfunded mandates that we have no control over. The state and federal governments continue to force counties to provide programs that are crippling our economy, yet in every discussion Cuomo has held recently, he is completely silent on the topic.
In January, a letter was sent to Cuomo signed by a bipartisan group of 90 county legislators from seven Western New York counties asking him to address the real problem of high property taxes. By law, we are required to pay for the mandates and we have limited control over how the programs are administered.
These are the realities that Erie County has faced for far too long and, it appears, will continue to face since the governor has no plans to provide unfunded mandate relief. In fact, last year he vetoed a bill, supported by the Senate and Assembly, that would have relieved counties of paying for required indigent legal services. That would have saved Erie County approximately $10 million to 12 million annually.
For Cuomo and County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz to stand before us and tell residents that “intermunicipal cooperation” is some silver bullet to lower taxes is not only disingenuous, but it’s laughable.
Erie County and almost all upstate New York counties already have numerous intermunicipal agreements to share services and save money. This is nothing new. When 90 percent of county budgets are unfunded mandates, the problem is abundantly clear. We need unfunded mandate reform.
Quite frankly, I am tired of the governor getting a pass on the misdirection and misinformation he is providing residents.
In 2017, he has done nothing but propose costly new spending initiatives while making false claims about lowering taxes and curbing spending. It’s nothing more than his continued attempt to prop himself up as a potential 2020 presidential candidate. The people of New York State deserve better.
Once again, I find myself calling on the governor to address the No. 1 problem affecting all of New York State.
By finally addressing unfunded mandates, the governor can actually do something to help New Yorkers, municipal governments and small businesses. Until that problem is addressed, everything else he says is nothing but a distraction. Governor, get to work.
Joseph C. Lorigo Erie is majority leader of the Erie County Legislature.