Members of Best4NY cut the ribbon on their online petition...

Members of Best4NY cut the ribbon on their online petition against mandates on April 11, 2012, at the Greenburgh Town Hall in Greenburgh. Credit: Photo by Gerald McKinstry

The way Howland Robinson sees it, when Albany lawmakers tell local communities to tighten their belts, it's is kind of like a fat guy nudging someone to go on a diet.

The 60-year-old lawyer from Bedford says state leaders need to stop ignoring the tabs that get wedged into budgets and lodged into local tax bills. Those costs are contributing to the chronic tax increases that have helped make New York among the highest taxed states in the nation.

Robinson is talking about mandates -- those complicated, often well-intentioned and expensive obligations passed down from New York State to local taxpayers -- that have long left even the most astute gadflies and wonks bleary-eyed, battered and beaten.

They come in many forms: pension benefits, Medicaid payments andpaid leave for school workers for cancer screenings. They're tucked into other laws, like the Triborough Amendment of the Taylor Law, which gives unions too much leverage at the bargaining table.

The list is long, yet these requirements are easy for voters, and by extension lawmakers, to ignore because they're often hard to understand and they sure as heck are not sexy. But they're among the inflexible costs driving so many New Yorkers to more "tax-friendly climates," as Robinson puts it, like South Carolina, Virginia and New Hampshire.

"You get to a point, you realize how much of the local budget is controlled through Albany," he said recently of the difficulties of cutting costs.

Robinson is among a growing segment of New Yorkers studying the finer points of state taxing, spending and those befuddling mandates.

That, in itself, is a huge shift.

They can't afford them. Don't want to pay for them. Or a bit of both.

They are fed up with lip service and want change on real dollars-and-cents issues.

It's no newsflash that people like Robinson, who maintain their school taxes alone have doubled over the last decade, are fed up. Home values, wages and 401(k)s aren't growing at that pace -- if they are growing at all.

The Best4NY group, which Robinson helped start, is calling on lawmakers to stop sending burdensome bills to cities, counties and school districts while part-time lawmakers claim to be artisans of fiscal restraint. (See the last state budget.) The group, which is an umbrella organization for several local citizen groups, gathered earlier this month in Greenburgh to kick off an Internet petition calling for real mandate relief from the state.

If a piano-playing pooch or break-dancing baby can get a million views on YouTube, they figure they can get a few thousand signatures online -- maybe more -- and perhaps blunt some of the powerful lobbying forces in the Capitol.

No small task, but they're actually taking a page out of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's playbook: Take your case to the people and the lawmakers will follow.

"There has to be a groundswell to counteract the other influences on the State Legislature," Roger Scheiber of Hastings-on-Hudson told of roomful of like-minded activists at the Greenburgh gathering.

The recently passed 2 percent tax cap, which puts limits on how much more taxpayers can be asked to shell out (with some large exceptions like pension costs), has forced communities to take a good, hard look at every nickel-and-dime line item.

But really it leaves them with few good choices. Localities, in many cases, are slashing programs at a 2 percent premium. Taxpayers don't think they're getting more for their money -- and they're mostly right.

Cuomo's mandate relief team has made some headway with a new pension tier and some other recommendations, but it's still a long way from taking a statewide victory lap.

Folks including Robinson and Best4NY are up against some very powerful forces in Albany's lobby-soaked system, so after they get their signatures, they'd better be prepared to really go to battle: It may cost a lot -- certainly in sweat equity -- because there's so much money riding on it.