Addressing a rally protesting unfunded mandates held Saturday April 12 at the state Capitol, Queensbury at-large Supervisor Mark Westcott says that such dictates are forcing local governments to abandon vital services. Warren County Board of Supervisors Chairman Dan Stec (right) also spoke at the rally, sponsored by the Upstate Conservative Coalition.
Unfunded state mandates are forcing local government services to be eliminated and are prompting people and jobs to move out of state, area politicians said at a rally held Saturday April 21 at the state Capitol.
Nearly 100 people — including a dozen or so from Warren County — gathered on the Capitol steps to protest the burden of unfunded mandates that the state has imposed on its local municipalities.
Two Queensbury supervisors, Dan Stec and Mark Westcott — who have campaigned extensively on the issue — were among the featured speakers at the rally. Westcott is an at-large supervisor from Queensbury, and Stec is head of the town government, as well as chairman of the county Board of Supervisors.
Noting that state dictates are responsible for 90 percent of the county’s tax levy, Stec implored the protesters to lobby their legislators to outlaw or restrict unfunded mandates, as 27 other states have.
Stec compared unfunded mandates to a frustrating hiking expedition — that local governments were being commanded to move faster, as more rocks were being put into their backpacks.
“These mandates are killing the property taxpayers and the business climate,” Stec said. “Let’s pull these rocks out of our packs and leave them on the trail,” he said.
Westcott said that with the tax cap, the ever-increasing mandates were forcing local governments — under the new 2 percent tax cap — to slash vital services.
“Unfunded mandates are growing at an unsustainable rate, and they are choking out local community programs,” he said.
Town of Ballston Supervisor Patti Southworth noted that unfunded mandates passed down to Saratoga County cost the local taxpayers $61 million annually.
“If the state paid for their own mandates, there would be no property tax at all in Saratoga County,” she said.
It’s not only local governments that are being burdened, said John Blowers, a member of the Ballston Lake-Burnt Hills school board. He noted that by merely repealing a few key laws, school districts would have have millions of dollars more annually to spend on providing a quality education.
The most expensive and burdensome dictates, which should be repealed, he said, were:
• The laws which restrict school boards in effective contract bargaining contracts with teachers’ unions and virtually guarantee teachers raises in perpetuity;
• Laws that guarantee top wages for workers on school construction jobs, regardless of the local labor market;
• Restrictions on purchasing of materials and equipment that artificially boost prices born by taxpayers;
• State policies that dictate excess special education procedures and rules; and
• The state’s Triborough Amendment, which guarantees teachers raises even while contracts are under protracted negotiation.
Blowers said this last dictate alone costs his school district $550 per year, and adds a burden of about $93.5 million to property tax bills annually across the state.
Rensselaer County Executive Kathleen Jimino said that unfunded mandates boost local taxes in the state so dramatically, they are 80 percent higher than the national average. She noted that in her county, money spent on the mandates spiraled 54 percent over the past five years, while local officials were forced to cut 11 percent from essential but non-mandated local services — which include paving roads, providing veterans’ medical transportation and senior meals.
Brian Telesh, a G.O.P official from Clifton Park, called for change via the voting booth.
“Throw out the politicians that aren’t voting against mandates, and keep the ones who are fighting for fiscal sanity,” he said.
Former Guilderland councilman and reformist Mark Grimm endorsed Telesh’s idea, urging citizens to recruit people untainted by politics to run for office and fight for fiscal sanity.
“New Yorkers will be dealing with unfunded mandates from now until doomsday unless we recruit the right new leaders,” he said.
Saratoga County Clerk Kathy Marchione told the protesters how citizen outcry could make a difference.
She noted that in fall 2009, when the state tried to impose a requirement that all motorists buy new license plates, 110,000 citizens signed an online petition, and the mandate was dropped.
“Democracy still works,” she said. “People taking action makes a huge difference.”
State Assemblyman Jim Tedisco (R-Glenville), agreed.
“The only way we’ll achieve change is through a grassroots effort.”
State Assemblyman Steve McLaughlin (R-Schaghticoke), who represents a substantial portion of the 108th district, called unfunded mandates the work of “dictators.”
“There’s nothing more un-American than unfunded mandates,” he said. “It’s a cowardly way to govern, and it’s choking the life out of the nation’s greatest state.”
The rally was held April 21 to coincide with the arrival of Tom Cavanagh, who is walking across New York State to protest unfunded mandates.
Near the end of the protest rally, Cavanagh showed up, clad in a red, white and blue headwrap.
He said that these mandates were boosting property taxes to the point that citizens had to choose whether to pay for food, medicine and utilities — or their ever-increasing property taxes.
“These mandates are bankrupting our communities, our counties, or towns — and the taxpayers who foot the bill,” he said, calling for people to urge their local school boards to pass resolutions in protest.
Cavanagh, a citizen of Delaware County, started his 459-mile trek April 15 in Champlain, and plans to finish his trip in Long Island on May 2. Along his route, he stopped in Elizabethtown late last week to talk with Town Supervisor Margaret Barkley.
The rally and trek were sponsored by the Upstate Conservative Coalition.
Stec, a candidate for the 114th state Assembly District seat, and Westcott together were featured on a panel on unfunded mandate relief at the New York State Association of Counties conference held in January. More information may be found at Westcott’s website, www.enoughmandates.com.