Janison: State-local tensions brewing
Battle lines for this new fiscal season appear to be forming along the ever-uneasy border between the state and its local governments. New York City's new leaders are ramping up the rhetoric of self-rule, while Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's continuing efforts to drive down local-government costs and taxes are getting some pushback on Long Island and elsewhere.
In his appeal for permission to impose an income-tax surcharge on top earners, Mayor Bill de Blasio told state lawmakers: "The city's right to self-determination, to setting and carrying out our own priorities, should be honored in Albany." Similarly, city Comptroller Scott Stringer declared that the city should have power to set its own minimum wage at $11 per hour, above the state's $8 rate.
While the city is legally a creature of the state, the mayor's political agenda includes a wider push for more autonomy. Sherif Soliman, de Blasio's Albany representative, has said his office will "focus our efforts on the issue of home rule."
"Much of what we seek to accomplish in city government is dependent upon state action," Soliman said at a City Hall news conference last month. "The city-state relationship is critical and it must continue and remain strong. But the city should be able to make its own decisions on issues such as rent laws and speed cameras, just to name a couple."
When it comes to the income- tax boost, which de Blasio proposed as a revenue stream to expand pre-K programs, Cuomo noted last week: "Under our Constitution, the state determines taxation. Localities propose. The state has to pass a law."
Esther Fuchs, a professor in Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs, said that is typical among states. The concept of home rule, as practiced, is only as strong "as the state allows it to be," she noted.
From his vantage point, Cuomo sees major efficiencies to be wrung from the state's 10,000-plus governments and taxing districts. As attorney general before he was governor, he authored a law to make it easier to eliminate some of them -- which had minimal results. Now Cuomo proposes to offer property owners an income tax credit if their local officials carry out consolidations or "shared savings" with other entities. Initially, the credit would equal any property-tax increase within the state's 2 percent cap. While top lawmakers sound open to this property-tax "freeze" idea, the Suffolk County Village Officials Association calls it "mere cost-shifting."