Local leaders gathered in Corning to outline the plan for a statewide coalition on mandate relief. Speakers at the rally say unfunded mandates are suffocating school districts and municipalities. “The reality is that not every district is able to afford what's coming their way,” said Brian Sampson, Executive Director of the group Unshackle Upstate. “So we need to give them those tools. And if we don't, then we will bankrupt our kids, and we will send them off unprepared for college.”
“We’ve seen the attempt to restrict the growth of property taxes, and we all agree property taxes are way too high, but we're a service state and we need to make some systematic changes in order for us to diminish them, without sacrificing children along the way,” said Mary Beth Fiore, Superintendent of the Elmira Heights School District, and President of the New York State Council of School Superintendents.
Assemblyman Phil Palmesano of Corning and State Senator Tom O’Mara of Big Flats both attended the rally. Palmesano says he agrees that mandate relief is needed to lower property taxes in the state. “We can talk about property taxes caps and property tax freezes all we want, but until we get at the true cost drivers that are driving up local school district and municipal budgets, which are unfunded mandates, we're never going to be able to reduce property taxes, which is what we need to do,” said Palmesano.
The forum brought together Democrats and Republicans, working towards reforms. “So if we have an intelligent conversation to remove the politics from it, and the fact that there's got to be winners and losers, and we come up with some common sense mandate relief that will actually enhance our economy,” said Hornell Mayor Shawn Hogan.
To the legislature as a whole, there was a simple message. “Help,” said Hogan. “Simple as that. We need help. We need common sense help.”
“There’s a lot more we can do to help our local municipalities and school districts,” said Palmesano, saying he hears the calls in Albany for mandate relief. “And by doing that we're helping the local property tax payer.”
There are six items in the “Let NY Work” coalition’s mandate relief package. Those items are: freezing step increases when contracts expire, controlling construction costs, providing portable pension benefits, redefining compulsory arbitration, capping health insurance costs, and prohibiting new unfunded mandates.