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September 15, 2012

State balancing its budget on local taxpayers

The Daily Star

---- — Visit the budget section of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s website, and the first thing you’ll see is this self-congratulatory and self-aggrandizing statement:

“Thanks to the tough choices and the historic reforms we achieved last year, we are able to propose a pro-growth budget without broad cuts or new taxes, fees or borrowing. Our stronger fiscal position now allows us to tackle long overdue pension reform and mandate relief that will lower the cost of government, drive accountability in our schools to put students first, and leverage tens of billions of dollars of new private sector investment to create jobs without significant cost to the taxpayer.

“Through fiscal discipline and working in partnership with the private sector, we are strengthening our economy to create jobs and secure our state’s future. This budget represents the next step in our plan to transform New York State.”

Sounds great, huh?

Maybe the reason for Cuomo’s 70 percent approval rating is because the governor and Legislature appear to be fiscally responsible.

But dig a bit deeper, and — as the city of Oneonta and Otsego County are discovering — the state is balancing its budget on the backs of virtually every municipality in New York.

Otsego County is facing a projected $5.6 million budget shortfall, says County Treasurer Dan Crowell, and its options are not attractive. That’s because there are state-mandated, but not fully funded, programs the county can’t touch.

“The Sheriff’s Department’s road patrol and the Office for the Aging are extremely important local priorities” that are not state-mandated services, Crowell told The Daily Star. “It’s just a shame the state continues to load mandates on us in a way that could force us to get rid of higher local priorities.”

In Oneonta, Mayor Dick Miller and the Common Council have issues with the state, too.

State pension plan payments continue to rise at levels that create budgeting challenges in the short term and put basic services into jeopardy in the long run, Miller told The Daily Star.

“The problem has not been effectively addressed in Albany,” he said. The city’s bill for the state pension plan is up by $150,000 for 2013.

Meanwhile, the state has mandated a 2 percent cap to property tax increases and cut aid to municipalities, Miller said, adding that the state’s money woes are being passed on to financially struggling localities that provide police, firefighting, water, sewer and other basic services.

Unfunded mandates are never popular on the local level, but the state has gone from being noisome to being unreasonable. Among county, town and city representatives wrestling with their budgets, we can rest assured that the governor’s approval rating isn’t anywhere near 70 percent.