The New York State Association of Counties has released its latest recommendations to reduce mandated costs on local governments.
The bipartisan association report includes suggestions for relieving local governments of increased Medicaid, education, welfare, pensions and other costs.
In total, there are 40 state-mandated programs - many of which are accompanied by "dozens or even hundreds of pages of regulations and rules" - using local tax dollars.
County Executive Greg Edwards, a member of the county leadership team on the association, said the latest report offers more blunt, streamlined recommendations than in past declarations.
"It's become more important because counties have done the hard work of cutting all the major costs that are solely within our control," Edwards said. "We are down to fewer people than we need to deliver our services. It's really at a critical stage."
State Assemblyman Andy Goodell, R-Chautauqua County, said the first step in curbing state mandates is cooperation between the state and local municipalities.
"State and local governments need to act in partnership to reduce the cost of taxes on everyone," Goodell said, praising Edwards for his role in raising awareness of the need for mandate relief. "He has been a statewide leader for mandate relief in assisting these efforts," the Republican and former county executive said.
Annual costs to the Medicaid system in New York for the 2012-13 fiscal year are expected to be $54 billion, with $7.57 billion coming from the state's counties. According to the report, the state's Medicaid program "bears little resemblance" to the one initiated in the mid-1960s.
The program was a "simpler health care safety net built on a platform of county (local) service delivery to provide for the health and welfare of its disabled and poor residents."
Decades later, the report states, Medicaid in the state has grown into the country's largest and most expensive state system of public health insurance.
Mandate relief recommendations include:
A gradual takeover of local Medicaid costs. "The current financing mechanism of relying on locally generated taxes is unduly burdensome to homeowners and small businesses as it directly contributes to New York's highest property and local tax burden in the country," the reports states.
State assumption of county Medicaid administrative costs. By 2018, all administration of Medicaid will be taken over by the state Department of Health. Overseeing the program accounts for approximately 2 percent of total Medicaid costs.
Goodell said he is sponsoring legislation for the gradual takeover of the program.
"It's one of several bipartisan bills (in the state Legislature) to reduce these burdens," Goodell said, noting it could take six to eight years for the shift in costs from the county to the state.
PRESCHOOL SPECIAL EDUCATION
Costs to counties annually for the state preschool special education program is $936 million. In 1989 the state established the Pre-School Program for Children with Handicapping Conditions-Educational Program.
The mandated program has since grown, from $96 million in 1989 to $1.5 billion this year. Counties additionally also now pay 100 percent of transportation costs.
"Federal and state laws place responsibility for the program with the education system and gives decision-making authority to school districts, even though counties continue to bear the financial burden for service and programmatic decisions," the report states.
Recommendations include: Streamlining transportation to reduce costs; establishing a regional research grant for transporting students to their services providers; allowing counties greater input on the placement of the child; and establishing a task force to advance legislative proposals.
Local costs to sustain the state's Safety Net program are $997 million annually. The program, designed to cover those not being assisted by TANF (temporary assistance for needy families), can be in the form of cash assistance and "other supportive services."
Percentage of costs by the state and counties has swung in recent years, with the county now contributing 71 percent of the share and the state 29 percent.
To reduce the mandate, the report recommends: Placing a sanction where an individual or head-of-household recipient fails to satisfy work requirement; returning the program to its original legislative purpose; and reversing cash assistance increases for single adults.
Local costs for pensions, not including New York City, are $900 million annually. Counties are required to participate in the state Public Employees Retirement System, although local governments have little say in the matter.
"... Counties have no control over pension benefits awarded to their own employees as these benefit levels are determined by the governor and state Legislature," authors of the report state.
Recent pension reform (Tier 6) has been enacted that will force any new enhancements to the program to be fully funded by the state.
"This is a significant reform because in prior years generous pension expansion was provided with local governments responsible for any and all future cost increases related to the benefit expansion," the report notes.
Goodell, meanwhile, said the pension reform bill will become more cost-effective as newer employees begin to work.
"The savings will continue to grow as more and more employees over time come in and older ones retire," he said.
One recommendation to relieve counties of the pension mandate includes allowing counties to borrow directly in the marketplace for any amortized pension costs.
Current law allows counties and other municipalities to delay full payment of their pension bills by amortizing (liquidating payments into installments) over a period of years.