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December 06, 2016
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Why are property taxes so darned high? Part III of this series, continued

Ken Hilton

Over the past 60 years, hundreds of state and federal laws have been passed that mandate enforcement by local governments, in part or wholly at their expense. Many of these laws are well meaning with noble purposes. Among the better-known mandates are the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, Medicaid and the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. But there are literally hundreds of other, lesser known mandates. One of the most costly for New Yorkers is the requirement that state and county governments pay over one-half of Medicaid costs. And in just the last few years, our state has mandated that public schools provide students with calculators, allow employees to take time off each year to donate blood and to be screened for cancer, require the employment of data managers, create concussion-management teams, assign staff to investigate all harassment and bullying accusations and fulfill dozens of other costly tasks. Independent studies have shown that unfunded mandates cost local governments billions of dollars each year. These state and federal mandates push up local taxes, and at the same time begin to limit the abilities of local governments to pay for traditional services—such things as road maintenance, law enforcement, library books and public education.

Three other New York State (NYS) mandates—all of them are labor laws—deserve mention because of their powerful effects upon the costs of local government. The first is the Triborough Amendment of the Taylor Law. The Taylor Law governs the labor relationship with public employee unions. The Triborough Amendment states that when a labor contract expires, the terms of the previous contract continue. Critics argue that this gives public labor unions unfair leverage in labor negotiations. Critics also condemn the inclusion of “salary steps” in many public employee contracts that require salary increases even though a contract has expired and no new one is in place. New York is the only state that has anything like this rule.

The second of these NYS mandates requires that local governments pay at the “prevailing union rate” for most capital construction projects. Clearly, this is a great benefit to employees of contractors who win bids for pubic construction projects. However, it comes at the expense of taxpayers, for it greatly increases the costs of all public construction.

The third is called Wick’s Law. It requires the hiring of four separate contractors for major public construction projects, adding 20% to 30% to their costs.

Reason #6: Many small governments