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February 2017 Column - WNY counties unite against Governor’s misdirection on reason for high NYS taxes


OFFICE HIGHLIGHTS

We’ve all read the stories in the paper of the countless individuals suffering from the ongoing opioid epidemic. There has been a lot of talk of families being ripped apart by this tragedy, too often we hear talk but see little action.

Legislator Ted Morton joined Senator Patrick M. Gallivan, Erie County Sheriff Timothy Howard, Holland Central School Superintendent Cathy Fabiatos and Alden School Superintendent Adam Stoltman to announce continued funding for school resource officers (SRO) in several local districts. The SRO program provides a uniformed officer in schools as a way to promote student safety, conflict resolution and anti-bullying initiatives.


At a Legislative session held on September 21, 2017, Legislator Ted Morton honored Lancaster resident, Dick Young as the September 2017 Citizen of the month.


Today, in response to the County Executive’s offer to work with Legislator Morton to develop a compromise Made in America Act, Legislator Ted Morton wrote to him to begin the process.


Legislator Ted Morton first introduced the Made in America Act in support of local manufacturers and local workers in Erie County. After passing the Legislature by a vote of 9-1, the County Executive vetoed the law after instructing the County Attorney to draft a legal opinion.


Seven counties that help make up Western New York came together to send a letter and very clear message to Gov. Andrew Cuomo: we need unfunded mandate reform. A total of 90 legislators from Erie, Allegany, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Genesee, Orleans and Niagara counties signed on to ask the Governor to work to provide relief for counties through meaningful reform. 

Something that I don’t think many taxpayers realize is just how much Erie County and other counties are on the hook for when it comes to state programs. Erie County’s annual budget is a little over $1.7 billion; however roughly 90 percent of the budget is state and federal mandates. Unfunded mandates place further pressure on our county when we're already dealing with our own rising costs and declining revenues, we desperately need the state to stop passing the buck and provide needed relief for our communities.  

One example is that Erie County spends approximately $10-12 million annually for required indigent legal services. Most states pay for these costs, but NYS passes the cost onto counties. The State Senate and Assembly both approved bills that would have made the state responsible for those costs, providing relief to counties; however the Governor vetoed the bill at the end of 2016. As we stated in our letter, this was incredibly disappointing as this would have provided tangible savings to counties.  

I want to thank the 89 other legislators who signed the letter, and I encourage all county executives and legislators across New York State to tell the Governor that unfunded mandate reform is overdue and would be a huge benefit to all our communities and help to reduce taxes for residents. When just nine state mandated programs total our primary revenue source, according to the NYS Association of Counties, we know we are facing a serious challenge.  

The Governor is also looking to add to the challenges we face. He has proposed provisions that would allow the state to make mid-year adjustments and withhold state payments to counties. The major issue with this is that the county budget will have already been set. If the state withholds funding that was already designated to programs the state mandates us to pay for, the county will be required to cover the expenses. That could rip a large hole in our budget. The Majority Caucus has sponsored a resolution for the Feb. 9, 2017 session, opposing the proposed provisions and any mid-year budget adjustments that could result in additional, unexpected and unbudgeted costs for the county.  

The Governor has said that the only remaining option for reducing NYS’s property taxes is by consolidating services at the local level. Dealing with a budget that is 90 percent state and federal unfunded mandates, I strongly and respectfully disagree. I believe the major reason for these high taxes is staring us right in the face and must be addressed.  

As always should you have any questions or concerns please give me a call at 858-8856 or send me an email to ted.morton@erie.gov