County Executives "Call To Cut"

Oswego, NY –
Onondaga County's Joanie Mahoney says state-mandated spending is pushing normally fiscally healthy counties to the breaking point.

"We hope by speaking with one voice regardless of party, that we can work with the incoming administration to get some relief," says Republican Mahoney, who endorsed Democratic Governor-elect Andrew Cuomo during his campaign.

At its annual meeting in Albany, the New York State County Executives Association focused on nine state-mandated programs they say eat up 90% of property taxes collected by counties statewide.

"I don't think people know that," says Mahoney. "They want their local officials to lower their property taxes, but they are becoming out of our control and solely within the control of the state legislature."

Addressing a news conference on Friday, Monroe County Executive Maggie Brooks, the association's president, said while they favored a property tax cap, it would not be enough. Brooks said businesses and residents across the state need property tax cuts.

The executives released a report they nicknamed "Nine for 90," which said $4.4 billion dollars is collected statewide in property tax, and listed nine state-mandated programs that consume $4 billion.

"So you can see very q uickly that the relief we need to give property taxpayers relief has to come from spending cuts at the state level," Mahoney says.

In Onondaga County, Mahoney says, in 2011 for the first time in the county's history, the nine programs will actually take more than 100% of property tax revenues.

"The amount of discretionary spending we have in Onondaga County is a fraction of the money that we spend," she says. "When I say discretionary,' I'm talking about things like snow plowing, our parks department, all of the maintenance we do to our roads. So when we talk about our ability to lower property taxes, we're talking about cutting things that will directly affect the people who live in Onondaga County and the quality of life that they enjoy."

The report shows Medicaid is by far the biggest state-mandated program at seven billion dollars. Mahoney says Onondaga County's share alone is $100 million.

"New York State pays more per capita for Medicaid than the states of California and Texas combined," she says.

"We have by far the most generous benefit package for people who receive Medicaid. It's a federa program, but New York State has added onto it," Mahoney says.

She says New York State also has the easiest enrollment requirements, resulting in one in four New state residents currently receiving Medicaid.

"If New York State were to dial its benefits package back to the level offered in a state like California, you could solve all of our budget problems," she says.

"It's that easy, but we have not seen, particularly Democrats in the State Assembly, willing to cut it at all."

As for the prospects of achieving spending cuts in the legislature, "It looks like the Republicans will have the majority in the Senate while Democrats lead the Assembly."

She says this composition may bring some geographic balance to the pressure from Downstate Democrats to keep spending on social programs.

But she says, a partnership with the incoming Cuomo Administration to bring about the needed spending cuts.

The report from the New York State Association of Counties can be downloaded here: