Central New York county governments want state to pay for unfunded mandates
Central New York lawmakers are celebrating the state legislature's decision to shift payment of indigent legal services from the counties to the state. It's one of many so-called unfunded mandates that have long been a source of contention for local governments, which are left to pay picking up the tab for the decisions that are made at the capitol.
The Oswego County Legislature has passed several resolutions that call on the state to pay for unfunded mandates. At its June meeting, the legislature asked the state to pay for a recent decision from the Office of Indigent Legal Services to raise the income level for those who are eligible for a free attorney from 125 percent of the poverty level to 250 percent. Oswego County Legislator David Holst, who authored the resolution, said that will make 47 percent of the county's residents eligible for a free attorney.
"They can't just keep passing these onto the counties," Holst said. "We have no money. Our only alternative will be is to cut other services or other people to make up the difference. We can't raise taxes anymore."
State Sen. John DeFrancisco (R-Syracuse) has authored a bill that would gradually shift the cost of indigent legal services to the state over seven years. It passed the Assembly earlier, and then passed the state Senate Thursday. But it's not the only state mandate that could burn up local property taxes.
The Oneida County Board of Legislators recently sent a petition to the governor asking for help with a mandated 20-percent pay raise for district attorneys. It's part of the reason why Utica state senator Joe Griffo is again pushing a bill that would require New York state to pay for any future mandate it passes. He discussed the legislation on a recent episode of the public radio program "The Capitol Pressroom."
"All mandates - I have learned - have some form of constituency and there will continue to be some form of a mandate," Griffo said. "So as a result of that, let's put the money with the mandate."
Just as mandates will continue in future legislative sessions, so will the argument over how to fund them.