When Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo passed the property tax cap as part of his first budget, local government and school leaders protested that for the 2 percent annual limit on increases to work, they had to have relief from some of the enormous expenses forced upon them by Albany. As local leaders had to plan within the cap, their pleas increased.
In introducing his budget this year, Cuomo seemed to really respond for the first time. He put forward a cap of 2 percent on mandatory arbitration awards for districts and municipalities judged to be in distress. He also proposed a pension-smoothing measure that would let payers into the system immediately reap some of the future relief of a reduced level of benefits for new and yet-to-be-hired employees and give them a set, guaranteed payment percentage to plan on.
Now, with the deadline nearing, both the Assembly and the Senate have included in their budgets measures to renew the state's current mandatory arbitration law, set to expire in June. Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, whose approval is necessary for the pension-smoothing plan to be allowed, has voiced significant doubts and refused to commit on whether he'll allow the change.
Neither plan Cuomo advocated is perfect. Mandatory arbitration needs more controls than just a cap for distressed governments, and the governor should be looking to get more relief for local governments by letting it expire. Pension smoothing pushed costs into the future, but the program is voluntary and has an identified way of producing savings to bankroll it.
It could also, we hope, act as a brake on legislators who love to sweeten pension benefits when no one is looking. This year Cuomo advocated mandate relief that could truly make a difference, but if he can't shepherd the changes into law, his property tax cap will make local budgeting a desperate process.