There is movement afoot in both Saratoga and Hamilton counties to raise their portion of the sales tax from 3 to 4%, bringing the total sales tax to 8%.
Saratoga County held a meeting of their Legislative and Research Committee on February 6, 2012 and decided on their 2012 Legislative Program. It was great to see that a number of the items deal directly with mandate relief, including:
- Calling on the Governor and State Legislature to implement a full takeover of all local costs of the Medicaid Program. Medicaid is the largest unfunded mandate imposed by New York State and has contributed to property taxes in our state being the highest in the nation. This year, Saratoga County budgeted $23.3 million – nearly 46% of our property tax levy – to cover this single mandate. We support legislation introduced last year (S.5889-B/A.8644) that would implement an 8-year state takeover of county Medicaid costs, placing responsibility for this state program in the hands of state leaders where it belongs. Governor Cuomo’s 2012-13 Executive Budget proposal to phase in a “hardcap” on Medicaid growth over three years would provide county property taxpayers with no relief this year and allow the burden of this mandate to continue growing for three more years. A full state takeover is the only real solution.
- Supporting Pension Tier VI. Our yearly contribution to the state pension fund is Saratoga County’s second most costly unfunded mandate, budgeted at nearly $12.3 million this year. The combination of a weak economy ad years of generous guaranteed pension benefits has resulted in a growing and unsustainable financial budget on county taxpayers, the majority of whom do not enjoy a comparable level of retirement security. We believe the 2012-13 Executive Budget’s tier V1 proposal represents an opportunity to control future costs while providing a pension benefit that is fair to government employees, and we urge the State Legislature to enact it in the final State budget.
- Urging reforms to ensure more timely State reimbursement for State mandated services. Not only are counties not adequately reimbursed for their expenses on mandate services, but too often we must wait far too long, as long as several years, for the State reimbursements we actually do receive. This is the functional equivalent of the State forcing us to issue interest free loans to pay for programs, and it creates cash flow difficulties that can lead to short-term borrowing, spending of reserves and damage to our credit rating. We urge the enactment of legislation to minimize the reserves and damage to our credit rating. We urge the enactment of legislation to minimize the reimbursement lag, including provisions allowing counties to collect interest on late reimbursement, and we call on the Governor to establish strict rules at State agencies to ensure prompt payments.
- Supporting a constitutional amendment banning new unfunded state mandates and urging the Governor and State Legislature to demand significant relief from existing mandates. In 2012 the estimated cost of state mandates equals more than 120% of Saratoga County’s property tax levy. Yet there are still new unfunded mandates on the horizon that will require legislative action to prevent, and Governor Cuomo’s executive budget perpetuates, and in certain instances increases existing mandates. We urge the Legislature to immediately introduce and pass a constitutional amendment banning new unfunded mandates, as well as a statutory ban that would provide protection until such an amendment may be passed in final and ratified. We also urge the Governor and State Legislature to establish specific and significant savings targets, as the Medicaid Redesign Team did for the newly convened Mandate Relief Council, and ensure that the council’s mandate relief proposals hit these targets.
These are all great legislative lobbying goals for Saratoga County. Another goal that they have set is:
- Urging the State Legislature and Governor to Honor Home Rule Requests. Enabling Local Officials to Better Manage Local Finances and Protect Property Taxpayers. With passage of the property tax cap and the state’s failure to enact complimentary mandate relief, local officials are in greater need than ever before for alternative revenue sources that will allow us to meet our legal obligations without compromising essential services. Yet in recent years, the State Legislature has delayed responding to home rule requests or worse, ignored them. If State Legislators are unwilling to honor home rule requests, then they should reform the home rule process to allow local officials to set their own sales tax and other home rule revenue rates within reasonable parameters.
According to a Hamilton County Express article entitled “State of New York taxes a shell game” dated 2/22/2012, the Hamilton county Board of Supervisors is looking to increase their county sales tax to 4% as well.
In a general sense, we support the concept of Home Rule, which means that residents have local control of their government through their local municipalities and school district. In reality, there is very little Home Rule. The enormous problem of unfunded and underfunded state mandates is one glaring example of this, but it is true in other areas, too, as we saw last fall when the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors wanted to raise the county sales tax to 4%. That proposal was immediately squashed by the Assembly and Senate representatives. The county was forced to raise property taxes instead. Now Saratoga County is looking for a reform of the home rule process to enable them to set the sales tax and other “revenue rates” (fees?).
What we disagree with is the idea that increasing revenue is the solution to the crisis facing New York. The solution is to reduce the spending that is being mandated by the State. Increasing taxes will only hurt the local economy further, by taking money away from the people who would have spent it in their communities. Also, it will only further embolden more mandates and more spending. THIS HAS TO STOP! The solution is to ban all new unfunded mandates and to reform all existing mandates, including reducing the overall cost of the mandates and reducing or eliminating the county and school district share of the funding.