Sources: NYSBA Municipal Law Section, Special Committee on Mandate Relief; Office of the Governor
On February 28, 2011 the New York State Bar Association’s Municipal Law Section’s Special Committee on Mandate Relief sent its comments* concerning the need for relief of certain mandates imposed on political subdivisions of the State, i.e., counties, cities, towns, villages and school districts, to the Governor’s Office.
The Governor’s Office reports that on March 2, 2011 Governor Cuomo accepted a preliminary report issued by the Mandate Relief Redesign Team** on ways to curb the proliferation of unfunded and underfunded mandates.
The Special Committee said that:
“Municipal officials have long been managing mandates handed down by the state government, whether the mandate is funded, under-funded or unfunded.1 As there is no uniformly accepted definition of what constitutes an “unfunded mandate,” there is no recognized, comprehensive inventory of the unfunded mandates that are placed on municipalities. Nevertheless, there are a number of laws and regulations that are universally recognized as such due to their prevalence and associated costs on municipal affairs.
“Some require that certain services or programs be offered to the public by the municipality for the benefit of the public at large. Others establish procedural or administrative parameters within which a municipality must operate, but do not provide any identifiable benefit to the municipality or the public at large. Often, this latter mandate category is designed to promote a legislatively determined public policy of the state, benefiting a narrow class of individuals, at the cost of the municipality. It is from this latter category of mandate that the need for fiscal relief is greatest”.
Noting that its comments “are not intended to question the validity or wisdom of the various public policies underlying mandates; rather, these comments are intended to identify those mandates that have the greatest impact on municipal expenses and to highlight the inequity of having municipalities bear the financial burden of carrying out these policies.”
The Special Committee addressed the following issues:
Disability Benefits for Law Enforcement and Firefighters (GML §§ 207-c; 207-a)
Wicks Law (Gen. Mun. Law 101)Prevailing Wage (Labor Law § 220)
Triborough Amendment to the Taylor Law [Civil Service Law § 209-a.1(e)]
The Mandate Relief Redesign Team details findings in three key areas.
First, its report addresses reform and redesign the current system to stop the proliferation of unfunded mandates by:
1. Prohibiting New Unfunded Mandates: Permanently fix the problem of unfunded mandates by advancing a state law and eventual constitutional amendment prohibiting any new state mandate (with very limited exceptions) on local governments or school districts unless the state fully funds the mandate or the local entity votes to comply with the mandate;
2. Requiring Independent Cost Analysis of Mandates: Strengthen the currently ineffective fiscal impact statement process by requiring legislative fiscal committees to determine the need for and prepare such statements. This would involve codifying Executive Order 17's fiscal impact statement methodology and local government consultation requirements and making the reports available to the public; and
3. Enforcing Limits on Unfunded Mandates: Using existing resources, establish an Office of Mandate Reform to act as a clearinghouse that will work with local governments and state agencies to address unfunded mandates.
Second, its report addresses cost-drivers to provide meaningful mandate relief by:
1. Creating a Pension Tier 6: A new Tier will help municipalities and school districts address rapidly escalating pension costs; and
2. Avoiding the Wicks Requirement by Removing Barriers to Project Labor Agreements: In order to reduce the costs that localities and schools face due to Wicks, ease the burdens associated with project labor agreements (PLA) by eliminating the study requirement and developing regionally-negotiated PLA templates that together can reduce the costs of public works projects by 15 percent or more.
Third, its report addresses the current unsustainable burden of state mandates by:
1. Giving Local Governments Greater Flexibility to Administer Existing Mandates: The State Administrative Procedure Act (“SAPA”) §204-a should be streamlined and expanded to allow localities to propose alternatives to current regulations and to request waivers of regulations; and
2. Conducting a Comprehensive Review of All State Mandates: Conduct a full agency review and accounting of state and regulatory mandates that burden school districts and local governments.
* A complimentary copy of the Special Committee’s report is available from NYPPL. E-mail your request to email@example.com
** The Mandate Relief Redesign Team report is posted at: http://governor.ny.gov/assets/documents/finalmandate.pdf .