New York Announces Competitive Grant For Local Government Performance and Efficiency

In efforts to help reduce the heavy tax burden on New York residents, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced an initiative designed to incentivize performance and reduce costs to local taxpayers.  A $40 million competitive grant fund is now set up as a part of Governor Cuomo’s structural reforms to relieve local governments from unfunded state mandates. This grant was initiated in the 2011-12 fiscal year, and is being renewed in the budget for the 2012-13 year.

The grant is now available to counties, cities, towns and villages, either individually or jointly. Based on an application, a reward will be given to local governments that have excelled in reducing property taxes and streamlining government.  The projects that are eligible must have started on or after January 1, 2010.

Applicants may receive as much as $25 per resident, with a maximum of $5 million.  The actual amount of the award will be based on the population, and the percentage of fiscal impact on the applicant’s total government expenditures.

The local government performance and efficiency incentive is highly beneficial to taxpayers, and the municipalities alike.  As Stephen Acquiario, Executive Director of the NYS Association of Counties said, “[t]hese. . . grants will recognize local governments which have stood up for their taxpayers and found smart, more efficient ways to keep costs under control.”

This post was prepared by Chelsea Keenan Albany Law School ’14

Government Reform Proposed by GOP, Dems, in Minnesota

Following the infamous government shutdown in Minnesota last summer (which the State is still feeling the effects of), Republican members of both the House and Senate began gathering a variety of proposals for the current legislative session. The list of proposals, commonly called “Reform 2.0” covers a variety of areas, including economic development, education, health care, and government reform.

As State Rep Keith Downey noted, “[o]ne of the biggest challenges we face in state government is we’re about 20 years behind in improving state operations.” To that end, the “Reform 2.0” includes a number of  government reform provisions that would: make government pay and benefits competitive with the private sector, reduce the number of departments in the Executive Branch, require local governments to present budget and spending information in an easier to understand format for the general public, work with local governments on mandate relief, require the state budget to include federal insolvency contingency planning, and fix the problems which were encountered during the government shutdown.

Not surprisingly, State Democrats remain skeptical of the Reform 2.0 proposals. House Minority Leader Paul Thissen was reportedly disappointed by the GOP plan, echoing the claim of other Democrats who believe that many of the ideas are recycled from previous, unsuccessful proposals. To counter, Democrats have announced their own reform package which would emphasize reforms in the Legislature. Highlights of the Democratic package include: a plan to prevent future state shutdowns, requiring politicians to disclose any outside income, preventing private meetings whenever the State Capitol is closed, prohibiting public meetings between 12 a.m. and 7 a.m., prohibiting officials of political parties from holding public jobs, and a provision on “unallotment.”

Virginia Addresses Unfunded Mandates

Virginia has joined the battle against unfunded mandates placed on local governments by creating a commission to examine the current problem and possible solutions.  It has been reported by Leesburg Today that the Task Force for Local Government Mandate Review has been established by Gov. Bob McDonnell and has issued their First Interim Report to the Governor, which highlights what the task force has reviewed and includes their proposals for eliminating the unfunded mandates that currently overwhelm local governments.

The task force has recommended that legislators place a moratorium on  new unfunded mandates until the state has created an appeal/review process to control the proliferation of unfunded mandates.  New York has recently set up an appeal and review process, the Mandate Relief Council, which was discussed in an earlier blog on Government Reform.  Further, before the proposed moratorium should be lifted, Virginia should reverse a $60 million dollar reduction in state aid to localities and ensure that state governments, not local governments, pay the cost of health benefits for retired teachers.

Other mandate relieving suggestions include education reform.  After reviewing 75 state education mandates some suggestions included giving schools more control over their academic calendar (for example reversing the King’s Dominion Law which prevents schools from starting before Labor Day), reducing paper work by 15%, and the elimination of certain standardized testing.

Recommendations outside the realm of education include eliminating state inspection requirements for erosion and sediment control where local inspectors are present, reverse the requirement for recycling surveys, eliminate the public notice (newspaper published notice) requirement for contract bids, allow local governments to manage local transportation projects without state oversight, and allow local governments to require some local employees to contribute 5% for their share of the Virginia Retirement System payments.

The full report and all the recommendations are available here.

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.