Albany urged to focus on long-debated mandate relief

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ALBANY -- A coalition aimed at cutting state-mandated costs on schools and local governments is trying force lawmakers to commit to a specific bill and end years of debate.

The Center for Cost-Effective Government think tank, Long Island education and business groups, the state School Boards Association, state Conference of Mayors, the Unshackle Upstate business group and other civil and business groups seek to force the discussion on ending the so-called unfunded mandates on school districts, local governments and their taxpayers. The decisions made in Albany can no longer be afforded back home, said the center’s Steve Levy.

The groups hold a panel discussion open to the public on Thursday night at the Melville Marriott.

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The groups also target the Triborough amendment, which continues elements of labor contracts with public workers after a contract expires. Critics for decades have said the provision provides an advantage to union negotiators and has swelled public costs.

It is part of the Taylor Law in which public worker unions gave up some rights to strike.

The bill backed by the group also would cap binding arbitration judgments in public worker disputes, stop automatic “step” raises for teachers when a contract expires, place future employees in a version of the  401(k) retirement plans that would be less costly for government employers, and allow some current public workers to join versions of 401(k) of retirement plans.

“Mandatory arbitration has given us the $200,000 police officer,” said Levy, a former Suffolk County executive, a conservative Democratic assemblyman and a 2010 candidate for governor when he switched to the Republican party.

“All legislators say they are against mandates generally, but the proof is whether they will support a specific bill to do it,” Levy said Wednesday. “No more talk. We need the names on this bill. We’re one of the highest taxed regions in the nation.”

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Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and legislators in the Senate and Assembly have long sought to reduce mandates of programs, pension sweeteners for local public employees and other costs that didn’t include state funding to pay for them. Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner, a Democrat, had led a similar effort among local government officials statewide to lobby Albany for relief.

In recent years, Albany has taken over the increase in costs of Medicaid health care for the poor paid for by state and local governments. Cuomo and the Legislature have lowered the cost for government of public pension for future employees, and capped the growth in property taxes. More measures are proposed each year, although few become law.

The bill is sponsored by Assemb. Michael Fitzpatrick (R-St. James). He faces a challenge for re-election from Commack Democrat Jason Zove, an aide in the Suffolk Legislature.

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