NY Governor Calls for “Reimagining Government” in State of the State Address

After just one year as the chief executive in New York, Andrew Cuomo’s tenure has already been marked by several significant pieces of legislation, including a property tax cap, legalizing same-sex marriage, and more recently, amending the state income tax

Today, Governor Cuomo issued his State of the State Address for 2012, outlining several agenda items for the upcoming year, including “reimagining government.” “We have to fundamentally reimagine how government operates,” said Cuomo, “[w]e need a government that performs better and costs less.” Cuomo proposed several items to achieve the “reimagining” of government, including: abstaining from new taxes, mandate relief, reforming the pension system, establishing a “Virtual Capitol Online” to give citizens direct access to state government, reforming the public education system, and redesigning the state’s emergency management system in the wake of the 2011 Hurricanes.

Other highlights of the Governor’s address included:

  • Proposing to build the largest convention center in the United States at the Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens, and then redevelop the aging Jacob Javits Convention Center into a mixed use facility, featuring housing, office space, hotels, and museums.
  • A $1 Billion dollar revitalization program for the City of Buffalo.
  • A second round of Regional Economic Development Awards, to follow up on the popularity of the awards given out in 2011; as well as a second round of “Challenge Grants” to State University (SUNY) Research Centers, following 2011’s NYSUNY 2020 Program.
  • Beginning the process of amending the State Constitution to legalize casino gambling.
  • Rebuilding State infrastructure, including bridges, highways, state parks, and dams; and additionally establishing an “Energy Highway” from upstate and western New York, as well as Quebec to assist the growth of other regions of the state.
  • Creating an “All-Crimes DNA Database” through legislation that will require the collection of DNA from anyone convicted of a felony or Penal Law misdemeanor.
  • Expanding the State’s solar energy programs while improving and developing energy-conservation techniques statewide.
  • Strengthening New York’s agricultural economy through low interest loans and upgraded farm infrastructure.
  • Instituting campaign finance reform through a system of public funding of elections, lowered contribution limits, pay-to-play rules to restrict out of state lobbyists, and creating an enforcement unit for the State Board of Elections; additionally the Governor pledged to support independent redistricting.
  • Establishing a Tax Reform and Fairness Commission to propose long-term solutions to the State’s Tax Code.
  • Continued protection of reproductive rights, including women’s right to choose.
  • Establishing a New New York Leaders Initiative to train the future leaders and policymakers of the state through two educational programs: the Student Intern Program and an Empire State Fellows Program.

The 2012 State of the State Address can be accessed here.

Property Tax Cap: Is it the right choice?

Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities is a policy organization in Washington D.C. that works with state governments and fiscal policies.  Their research allows state governments to form fiscal policies that would best suit their needs and their particular financial situation to alleviate poverty.  The Center looks at both the short and long-term impacts of fiscal policies to make sure the state is making the best policy decision.  

The Center has researched state property tax cap policies (which are becoming a trend) and has focused one report, Hidden Consequences: Lessons From Massachusetts for States Considering a Property Tax Cap, on the impacts of the Massachusetts property tax cap, Proposition 2 1/2, which has been examined by other states thinking about enacting a property tax cap.  The report outlines tax cap impacts that should not be over looked including the fact that property tax caps should not be implemented during a weak economy because when local governments decrease their revenue from property tax caps they have to make up for the lost revenue through state aid or other sources, which may not be available.  Also, a property tax cap will not make local government services cost less and savings from a more efficient government is exaggerated.  The report sends the message that states should be weary when adopting property tax cap legislation and points out some of the finer points that must be considered.

The report is available here.

New York Conference of Mayors

The New York Conference of Mayors (NYCOM) is an organization that consists of policy experts and the mayors of the State of New York and is dedicated to serving the interest of New York’s local governments.  New York has recently passed property tax cap legislation that prohibits municipalities from increasing the property tax levy rate more than 2%.  However, this does not mean that a resident’s property taxes will not increase by more than 2% because only the levy rate is capped.  NYCOM issued a report, You Can’t Cap What You Can’t Control, discussing New York’s property tax cap and how the legislation will not solve the fiscal problems local communities are facing if mandate relief provisions are not enacted.

The report suggests that without mandate relief a property tax cap will not allow a local governments to truly provide property tax relief to its residents.  Mandate relief provisions that are suggested and discussed include temporarily freezing public sector wages, requiring local government employees and retirees to contribute to the cost of health insurance, restructuring pension cost sharing and benefits, reform the Taylor Law (collective bargaining), and reforming the prevailing wage provisions under New York’s Labor Law. 

The NYCOM report is available here.

New York’s Spending and Government Efficiency Commission (SAGE)

Governor Cuomo created New York’s Spending and Government Efficiency Commission (SAGE) through Executive Order No. 4 in an effort to reform state government including its structure, operations and processes, lowering taxes, increasing accountability, and improving the delivery of governmental services.  SAGE is seeking a way to streamline, consolidate or eliminate government agencies, authorities, and commissions as well as all other over lapping government duties.  The SAGE Commission is responsible for reviewing the New York state government to seek different types of government reform that would accomplish its stated purpose.  During the review SAGE must provide recommendations that will result in a reduction of at least 20% of the existing New York agencies or authorities.

In December 2011, SAGE released the first set of their approved recommendations.  Under organizational and streamlining government entities SAGE recommends that various agencies in the transportation realm merge such as the Bridge Authority into the Thruway Authority.  Further, there should be shared services among the transportation agencies.  SAGE also recommends that lean management professionals are hired to establish the Office of Lean Management for New York State.  This office would conduct lean events and training sessions for New York agencies.  For operational improvements the Commission suggests that energy efficiency in governmental facilities is improved.

In order to improve and make government more efficient SAGE realized that a Performance Management System must be set in place as well as modernizing the public workforce through various improvements to the civil service process.

A summary of the SAGE recommendation is available here.

A detailed and informative presentation outlining the SAGE recommendations is available here.