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Local News

April 29, 2013

Progress slow on state mandate relief

'Million little things' stressing local budgets

(Continued)

The governor appointed a Mandate Relief Council in January 2012, naming his secretary, Lawrence Schwartz, to lead it. Its 2012 report, released in December, essentially is a list of requests for relief – all from school districts – and the council’s recommendations, none of which had the force of law.

The Laurens School District, for example, asked for relief from the Wicks Law, a measure dating to 1912 that was updated in 1946 and 2008. The law applies to construction projects undertaken by public entities. School districts and local governments have been railing against it for decades.

It was intended to foster competition by requiring that projects whose estimated costs exceeded geographically based thresholds hire separate prime contractors for general construction; heating, ventilation and air conditioning; electrical work; and plumbing. 

The current thresholds – $3 million for projects in New York City, $1.5 million for those in Nassau, Suffolk and Westchester counties and $500,000 for those in the rest of the state – were set five years ago.

New York Conference of Mayors, referring to unnamed studies, says the Wicks Law adds 8 to 30 percent to the cost of public construction.

The Mandate Relief Council recommended that school districts be exempted from the Wicks Law – New York City schools already are – but the legislature has yet to act on that advice. Contractors have lobbied to block the exemption.

Seward said he’s cosponsored legislation that would give local governments the choice of opting out of the law, which would be tantamount to a repeal, because few would choose to spend more money on a project.

He said he’d also support legislation that would exempt all school districts from the law.

“The New York City school already are exempt from that, and when it comes to school districts, we’re always looking for parity there in terms of the upstate schools,” he said.

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