Yesterday, Yorktown Councilman Nick Bianco issued a call for a moratorium on unfunded state mandates. On the heels of that call, fellow councilman and candidate for county legislator Terrence Murphy issued the following on the same subject.
State lawmakers passed landmark legislation earlier this year, enacting a property tax cap cap, rent control regulations, and $127 million in unfunded mandate relief, which many observers have called insufficient to meet the burdens placed by the cap.
An overlooked provision within the law signed by the Governor in July allows municipalities to make direct appeals to unfunded mandates before the State’s new Mandate Relief Council, and Westchester County Legislator candidate Dr. Terrence Murphy (R, I, C – Yorktown) today released a plan of mandates he plans to appeal to the new board during a press conference at Yorktown Town Hall.
“Unfunded mandates from the county, state and federal governments have been the bane of local governments existence,” Murphy said. “A tax cap alone is not enough to stop the profligate spending, and we need real, substantive mandate relief, most especially from here in Westchester, where nine state mandates account for .75 cents of every tax dollar we spend.”
The candidate for the 4th legislative district noted these mandates include:
Youth Detention ($2.9 million)
Child Welfare ($7.4 million)
Probation ($15.2 million)
Indigent Defense ($17 million)
Early Intervention ($17.5 million)
Preschool Special Education ($42.6 million)
Pension Costs ($51 million)
Public Assistance ($51.9 million)
Yet another huge cost is that of Medicaid, which consumes most of the County’s $578.2 million social services budget. “For every dollar we spend in taxes, we get about a nickel back from the county, and that has to cease,” Murphy said.
Murphy, a town councilman in Yorktown, noted that the new Mandate Relief Council is empowered to hear direct appeals from municipalities such as Westchester County, and craft legislation to repeal or change those mandates which come from law; while altering or removing those which come from State agency regulations.
The process requires the Governor to act within sixty days upon a ruling by the Council, and adopt its proposals for changes to executive regulations, or submit legislation to the legislature for those that mandates come from state law, without amendment.
“The dollar-for-dollar mandate relief in the tax cap bill was a drop in the bucket, and our state government must do more by assuming the costs of administering Medicaid, and enacting real pension reform,” he said. “However, they have provided us a powerful tool to achieve substantive mandate relief locally, and I will lead the way by making direct appeals to the new Mandate Relief Council once the State Senate reconvenes to confirm the Governor’s appointments to this panel.”
Murphy said the five mandates that he would immediately appeal as a County Legislator include the Wicks Law; the MTA Payroll Tax; a mandate which requires municipalities to use preferred source vendors; limitations on municipal deposit options; and interest rates on judgments against municipalities.
The Wicks Law requires that in Westchester County, construction projects costing more $1.5 million are subject to separate plumbing, heating/ventilation/air conditioning and electrical contracts.
“This mandate was designed to protect workers, but has long since outlived its purpose,” Murphy said. “It serves as an impediment to much needed capital improvements for northern Westchester, and I will appeal it, asking for the Council to implement reforms to this process which more accurately reflect a municipality’s ability to pay.”
The MTA Payroll tax is a surcharge placed on every employer in twelve county Metropolitan Transit Authority region. “This mass transit funding mechanism is odious, and illegal, and I expect the Mandate Relief Council to order its immediate and total repeal,” Murphy said.
Murphy also plans to appeal the State procurement mandate for entering into purchase and public works contracts, which he calls burdensome. Local governments are required to purchase commodities and services from Preferred Source Vendors, even if the Preferred Source’s price exceeds the prevailing market price by as much as 15%. “By appealing the price preference, we would immediately lower the property tax burden created by this program by as much as 15%,” Murphy said.
While the mandate which says that municipalities are only permitted to make deposits in commercial banks comes from State law, Murphy is encouraged that the new process requires the Governor to submit legislative changes within sixty days, and feels a repeal of this mandate is achievable.
“There are already several pieces of legislation to increase municipal depositary choice,” Murphy said. “With the force of the Mandate Relief Council and the Governor behind a proposal, following our appeal of this mandate, I know we can pass legislation to allow deposits in credit unions, which will ultimately result in savings for our property taxpayers when banks are forced to compete.”
Murphy also wants to reign in interest rates on judgments against municipalities, which can be accomplished through his appeal to the Council. “By law, these rates are set at a fixed 9% rate, which is light years above the current market rate,” Murphy said.
His proposal would reduce and cap the rate of interest to a variable market rate, which is much lower during the recent economic downturn.
Taking conservative estimates from municipal groups such as the New York State Association of Counties, the New York State Association of Towns, and the New York Conference of Mayors, if successful, Murphy’s plan to for mandate relief appeal could save Westchester’s taxpayers upwards of 40% on their County property tax levy.
“Four years ago, when I debated my opponent, not once did he mention cutting taxes, not once did he mention smaller government, and not once did he mention mandate relief,” Murphy said. “All of the sudden he’s had an epiphany of fiscal conservatism. We were here four years ago, and we are not going away. As County Legislator for New Castle, Yorktown, and Somers, my plan will cut property taxes by thousands of dollars for every homeowner, and that is a very good thing.”