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July 30, 2014
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editorial

For Sullivan County, our own fiscal cliff


Albany owns a share of the blame for this mess, too, because it requires counties to provide services the state does not fully fund. These so-called unfunded mandates go for Medicaid, public assistance, child welfare protection, pre-school special education, early intervention, public defenders, probation, youth detention and state pensions. These nine mandates alone (and there are more) consume nearly 90% of county property taxes statewide, according to the New York State Association of Counties (NYSAC).

Two years ago, Governor Cuomo convened a team to review and then cut unfunded mandates. Some reforms have been made, including a cap on what the state can spend on most Medicaid programs. Yet to date, the state has not provided meaningful relief to counties. NYSAC reports that in 2013, these top nine unfunded mandates will grow by $244 million statewide; yet the state’s 2% property tax cap would limit tax yield to $114 million. You do the math.

Medicaid is by far the most burdensome mandate. In 2011, Sullivan County’s share of that bill was $19.5 million. In 2013, it will be $22 million. Legislators have called on Albany to put an end to counties having to pay a share of Medicaid. (Only two states—New York and North Carolina require counties to pay such a share.)

Finally, Governor Cuomo, too, owns some blame for not doing enough to resolve this issue. In October, he indicated that no more mandate relief would be on the way from the state, and that local governments would have to balance their books on their own.

So here we stand on our own fiscal cliff, where the taxpayer is about to take the medicine for an unsustainable fiscal system.

Going forward, lawmakers must have the courage to abandon the wishful thinking that we can afford more services than we can pay for. Legislators must find new sources of revenue other than double-digit tax hikes or if they cannot, they must cut spending. Albany, too, must be involved in finding a long-term solution. If the state will not or cannot fund its own mandates, then counties need to be freed to control their own budgets without requirements to spend what they cannot afford. Citizens need to hold all parties accountable for their decisions.

Without a long-term solution, Sullivan and many other New York counties will end up standing on this fiscal cliff every year at this time.