Attorney General Cuomo Outlines Legal Proposal To Reduce Government Waste And Save Taxpayer Money

ALBANY, N.Y. (December 11, 2008) – Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo outlined today a new legal proposal to give communities across the state the power to reform local governments. As the current fiscal climate continues to financially squeeze communities and residents across the state, Cuomo’s proposal is designed to cut government waste and reduce taxes. Currently, the state is home to over 10,500 governments that saddle residents with the nation’s highest taxes and leaves the state with layers of antiquated government entities and special districts.

Cuomo today announced he will work with Gov. David Paterson, leaders of the state Legislature, government reform groups and local government leaders across New York to introduce a comprehensive legislative package to streamline the often Byzantine and cumbersome process of consolidating local governmental entities, including the myriad special districts across the state.

“Despite New Yorkers drowning for decades in some of the nation’s highest taxes, local leaders have been blocked from reforming local government in an effort to cut government waste and reduce the tax burden,” said Attorney General Cuomo. “During this economic crisis, leaders have an historic opportunity to fundamentally reform this state’s patchwork quilt of local government entities. These layers upon layers of taxing entities have a chokehold on state residents, and antiquated and arcane laws governing them perpetuate government inefficiency. Our goal is to reform those laws so communities, where appropriate, can reduce local government burden and reduce the cost of living in this great state.”

In all, there are more than 10,500 governmental entities imposing taxes and fees across New York State. This includes towns, villages, districts and special districts such as water, sewer and lighting districts.

As the state’s chief legal officer, Attorney General Cuomo is often tasked with advising local governments on the laws regulating them. It is clear that current laws are filled with inconsistencies, and complexities making meaningful reform unattainable.  

“We need to help our working families by doing everything we can to lower the cost of government,” said Governor David Paterson. “We cannot achieve real, sustainable property tax relief without addressing local government efficiency. That is why earlier this year we created the New York State Commission on Local Government Efficiency and Competitiveness. I applaud Attorney General Cuomo for addressing the root cause of these inefficiencies; layers of bureaucracy that duplicate service and drive up costs to residents.”

Given the current fiscal crisis New York is facing, the option to reorganize governmental entities allows communities the ability to provide vital services in a more efficient manner. In some cases, consolidation or dissolution may be necessary to reform government to meet the unique needs of each community. However, current law is unable to solve the problem for it is inconsistent, poses legal barriers and includes anachronisms that make operational reform virtually impossible.

Attorney General Cuomo's Proposal Compared to Existing Law

Existing Law

Attorney General's Proposal

Multitude of confusing laws scattered throughout the Town Law, Village Law, General Municipal Law, Municipal Home Rule Law and Election Law.

Single law applicable to all local government entities, which eliminates irrational inconsistencies and anachronisms in existing law

Confusing and inconsistent procedures to consolidate or dissolution, which vary depending on the type of local government entity involved

Uniform and simplified consolidation/dissolution procedures that comprehensively address transition issues.

Disempowered governing bodies are barred from initiating process with respect to certain kinds of local government entities

Empowered governing bodies can initiate consolidation/dissolution process for all local government entities.

Disempowered citizenry are barred from initiating process for certain kinds of local government entities.

Empowered citizens can initiate consolidation/dissolution process for all local government entities.

Confusing and hyper-technical process frequently leading to litigation and/or disqualification both of signatures and of whole petitions.

Simplified petition process and petition form for citizens to initiate consolidation/dissolution process

Higher and wildly different signature requirements depending on the kind of local government entity involved.

Uniform signature requirement of 10% or 5,000, whichever is less, to initiate consolidation/dissolution process.

Must own taxable real property to petition for or vote on proposed consolidation/dissolution of certain local government entities.

Abolish all land owning requirements to petition for or vote on proposed consolidation/dissolution

Counties barred from abolishing outright inefficient or moribund local government entities.

Counties empowered to transfer and abolish local government entities subject to mandatory referendum requirements.

Attorney General Cuomo's proposal is getting support from leaders statewide:

Senator Betty Little, chair of the Senate Local Government Committee, said, "The state fiscal crisis is forcing every level of government to look at ways to control spending and increase efficiency. As a result, more communities are now interested in examining dissolutions and consolidations as a way to avoid property tax increases. I applaud and support Attorney General Andrew Cuomo's proactive approach to ensure state government is a better partner in these kinds of efforts."

Assemblymember Sam Hoyt, chairman of the Assembly Committee on Local Government, said, "Government consolidation and regionalism are concepts that have ignited the imagination of New Yorkers looking to bring their local governments into the 21st Century. For too long the legal obstacles to translating these ideas into reality have stood in the way. Attorney General Cuomo's proposal for empowering local communities will eliminate those barriers. I look forward to shepherding this out of the Assembly Local Government Committee, which I chair, and ultimately passing it into law."

Richard Nathan, Co-Director of the Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government said, "The Attorney General is brave to select local government as a reform target. It has eluded too many past efforts. It is a perfect example of an issue on which radical restructuring is needed now in these challenging times. Hopefully the current fiscal exigencies will create an opportunity for real, profound, and much needed change."

Gerald Benjamin, distinguished professor of political science at SUNY New Paltz and former member of the Lundine Commission on Local Government Efficiency and Competitiveness said, "I'm delighted the Attorney General is taking up leadership in local government reform. The crisis we face is frightening but also provides a unique opportunity to take some of the steps that have long been needed to bring economy, efficiency and effectiveness to local governments in New York. This is historically a difficult task and it demands the best efforts of the best interested people in the state."

Russ Haven, Legislative Counsel for the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG), said, "The layers of local government installed over time in many cases have become a Rube Goldberg contraption bound together by the Gordian Knot of statutes and legal requirements. The Attorney General's proposal would create incentives, eliminate impediments and provide tools-not mandates-for severing the knot that prevents citizens and local governments from having smarter local government."

Director of the Intergovernmental Studies Program at Rockefeller College Sydney Cresswell said, "Streamlined government that meets the demands and realities of the 21st Century is long overdue. Attorney General Cuomo has brought forth a plan that cuts out the red tape and standardizes the often complex and varying procedures it takes to actually remove a layer of government. And the best part is this plan leaves the decision to consolidate up to the communities themselves. I applaud the Attorney General for his innovation and leadership on the issue of government consolidation."

Kenneth Adams, president and CEO of the Business Council of New York State said, "Consolidating governments, where it makes sense to do so, will help reduce the crushing tax burden that stymies growth in this state. When businesses both large and small thrive, it is good for workers, their families, and all of our communities. The Business Council supports the Attorney General's proposal and its implementation."

E.J. McMahon, Director of the Empire Center for New York State Policy, said, "Attorney General Cuomo's proposal to streamline New York's Home Rule statutes would clear the way for locally initiated reforms without imposing a top-down, one-size-fits-all solution. The attorney general has struck an appropriate balance between promoting efficiency and preserving self-determination on the local level. His timing certainly couldn't be better. This is pro-taxpayer package that deserves favorable consideration by the Legislature."

Kent Gardner, Ph.D., President & Chief Economist, Center for Governmental Research, said, "The structure of local government in New York state is badly in need of an overhaul - yet current law makes it extraordinarily difficult for citizens and community leaders to take charge of their destiny. CGR's experience with dozens of communities throughout New York state reinforces the need for the kind of common sense citizen empowerment envisioned in the Attorney General's proposals."

Barbara Bartoletti of the League of Woman Voters said, "In this new economic reality we applaud the Attorney General for addressing an issue that will provide for the possibility of a leaner, more efficient government and we look forward to working with his office as this process moves forward."

Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause/New York, said, "Common Cause/NY commends AG Cuomo for sponsoring this long overdue proposal to facilitate streamlining New York's local governments. For way too long the difficult and arcane procedures in our laws have discouraged those who want to promote efficient, well-ordered government. We strongly support its passage and hope that there will be other such forward thinking initiatives to improve government efficiency at all levels."

Peter A. Baynes, Executive Director of the New York State Conference of Mayors, said, "The New York State Conference of Mayors supports Attorney General Cuomo's efforts to reform the legal barriers that prohibit New York's local governments from operating efficiently and growing organically. Local governments are at their best when they are able to change consistent with the needs of their residents. Such flexibility is more important than ever in these difficult times, yet state law often stands in the way of progress. For example, New York's annexation laws make it virtually impossible for municipalities to modify their boundaries in a way that reflects an area's natural population growth, and instead these laws foster the proliferation of special districts. NYCOM also appreciates Attorney General Cuomo's support for local self-determination, since decisions regarding local government structure are best made on a community-by-community basis, through an open dialogue between residents and their local officials."

Stephen Acquario, Director of the New York State Association of Counties said, "Counties support reforms that enable and encourage a more modern and efficient local government structure. Counties embrace New York State's Home Rule principals, which provide local governments the autonomy to respond to the unique needs of their communities. We recognize and commend Attorney General Andrew Cuomo for the reform initiatives announced today. These initiatives are critical, especially in today's economy, and will help streamline these statutes to authorize localities to govern more effectively."

Nassau County Comptroller Howard Weitzman said, "One of the reasons for our high taxes is that we have too much government in New York. If taxpayers want to downsize government then we should remove any obstacles in their way. That's why I support the Attorney General's proposed reforms."

Erie County Comptroller Mark Poloncarz said, "My office is in favor of any effort that makes it easier for local officials to eliminate the duplication of services that currently burden the New York state taxpayers. My office last year showed we can save in Erie County anywhere from $2.6 to $4.4 million per year through the consolidation of all local assessment units into one regional countywide system. I applaud the Attorney General for understanding the issues that burden the taxpayers and for coming up with a solution that will benefit us in the long run."

Monroe County Executive Maggie Brooks said, "As public officials, our number one priority is to protect the taxpayers of New York State and ensure that their dollars are being spent as efficiently as possible. I support Attorney General Cuomo's plan to empower taxpayers to make their own decisions regarding the size and scope of their local government entities. This intelligent and unique approach will allow municipalities to consider consolidating government services, potentially saving taxpayers millions of dollars."

Onondaga County Executive Joanne M. Mahoney said, "I commend Attorney General Cuomo for presenting a comprehensive plan that allows governments to reorganize and consolidate in a way that is now almost impossible to achieve. This legislation will help communities and public officials overcome the arcane structure and laws that are preventing modernization in government."

Broome County Executive Barbara J. Fiala said, "Local government costs in New York are the nation's highest, which is largely the result of the outdated structure of our governmental system. I fully support Attorney General Cuomo's legislation to the process of reforming and consolidation much easier for communities."

Westchester County Clerk Timothy Idoni said, "I am always looking for new and innovative ways to work with my partners in government to reform the system. As countless New York families work to trim their expenses in this worsening economic climate, governments must do the same. Attorney General Cuomo's plan rightly puts the power in the hands of the people by letting communities decide what is truly necessary and what can be streamlined or eliminated. I support this reform wholeheartedly and look forward to working with the Attorney General to ensure it is adopted."

Albany County Executive Mike Breslin said, "Over the years, many attempts to institute more efficient methods of governing through Shared municipal services have been halted due to New York's arcane legal barriers. Attorney General Cuomo's proposed legislation provides a process that takes down those road blocks and gives communities an opportunity to institute reform."

Ulster County Administrator Mike Hein, the county executive-elect, said, "All of us in government work for the same taxpayers and it is our obligation to provide services as efficiently as possible. Having the tools to more easily share municipal services is critical, especially during this economic crisis. I applaud Attorney General Cuomo's leadership and look forward to state government passing the measure and helping ease the local tax burden."

Chemung County Executive Tom Santulli said, "The announcement today by Attorney General Cuomo moves New York one step closer to reforming the way our local governments operate. Doing so is critical in order to ensure relief for taxpayers and to institute efficient and effective governing moving forward."

Oneonta Town Supervisor Robert T. Wood said, "Attorney General Cuomo should be commended for proposing legislation that encourages shared municipal services to save taxpayer dollars. As an elected official I am very concerned that we do all we can to provide services economically and efficiently. By removing barriers to shared services he will make it easier for local government to initiate cost saving measures."

Mayor of the Village of Pike Lyman R. Granger, Jr., said, "Any decision affecting a community's vitality should be in the hands of the people. In my experience as a village mayor, the key component is ensuring the information regarding any change in governmental structure is made completely available to the public. Attorney General Cuomo's measure would do just that - make sure that the decision lies with the people who would be affected the most."

For more information about Attorney General Cuomo's proposal and to view an interactive map detailing special districts in New York state by county, visit http://www.ag.ny.gov

 

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