A task force commissioned by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to investigate unfunded mandates has released its preliminary report.
State Senator Betty Little belongs to the Mandate Redesign Team. She says the task force is recommending a constitutional amendment to prohibit new mandates.
Cuomo formed the mandate relief task force in January in order to examine the burden of unfunded mandates on local governments and school districts.
As part of his agenda for reforming Albany and getting New York's fiscal house in order, Cuomo has proposed a property tax cap. His proposal is popular among business leaders, but local government and school officials across the state are concerned that a tax cap without mandate relief will do more harm than good.
Little says the report, which was turned in to Gov. Cuomo on Tuesday, calls for an immediate freeze on additional unfunded mandates.
"The report says first, let's do no more harm," she said, adding that a constitutional amendment prohibiting new mandates will "give assurance" to school districts and local governments that the state will no longer pass down the "financial burden of new mandates."
Little says the report also acknowledges that the "one-size-fits-all" regulatory approach in Albany is outdated and inefficient, creating inequalities among local governments.
She adds that the State Administrative Procedure Act needs to be amended to "better allow for waivers of mandated regulations," providing alternatives for municipalities and schools.
According to Little, the state needs to be more flexible when it comes to mandates.
For example, health care officials note that some mandates apply to inner-city hospitals but become burdensome when rural health care facilities are forced to implement them.
Likewise, what applies to a city of 100,000 doesn't always make sense for a village of 7,000.
Little says flexibility is essential in responding to the state's fiscal crisis.
Saranac Lake Mayor Clyde Rabideau, who previously served as mayor of the city of Plattsburgh, says talk of mandate relief has been going on for years in Albany.
He says the proposals put forth by the mandate relief task force don't go far enough.
"It isn't enough," Rabideau said. "And not only that, but you're not going to see a constitutional amendment on it. It does not, in my mind, make any practical sense given my experience with Albany - I'll believe it when I see it."
Rabideau says local government officials have the right to be wary of state lawmakers who claim to be getting serious about mandate relief.
"Albany has a penchant for dumping everything they can on local municipalities," he said. "That's been going on since I was first elected mayor 20 years ago. That was our chant - 'mandate relief, mandate relief.' And it's been watered down and watered down. I just get frustrated with Albany and I'm very skeptical."
Little says the state Senate has, in the past, supported prohibiting unfunded mandates. This time it has the support of the executive branch, she notes.
"This brings it to a new level because it's being proposed as part of the executive team, which means there will be support from Gov. Cuomo," she said. "And putting it in the constitution makes it permanent."
This week's report details more than 100 specific mandate relief proposals.
Among the other recommendations are a proposal for establishing a standing office as a "clearinghouse" on mandate relief and creating a new Tier 6 pension plan for public employees.
Additionally, the Mandate Redesign Team is calling for fully agency reviews and accounting of state and regulatory mandates.
The task force also proposes reducing costs to local governments by doing away with mandated study requirements for public works projects.
The mandate redesign team consists of state lawmakers, local officials, and representatives from organized labor.