Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday enlisted the help of local elected officials to promote his tax freeze plan, which would provide homeowners with a rebate if local governments manage to stay within a 2 percent property tax cap for two years and demonstrate their efforts to control costs.

Spending can be contained, Cuomo said, by sharing services, finding new efficiencies and consolidating the countless layers of government that New Yorkers are saddled with.

“We’ve got too many governments. We really do,” he said during a conference in the Capitol’s Red Room, repeating his refrain that New York state is burdened with 10,500 units of government.

Joining Cuomo was a panel of local leaders including Albany County Executive Dan McCoy, Saratoga Springs Mayor Joanne Yepsen, Colonie Supervisor Paula Mahan and Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy — all Democrats.

Also participating was Ulster County Executive Mike Hein, another Democrat said to be on a list of possible lieutenant governor candidates for 2014, and Nassau County’s GOP Executive Ed Mangano.

Cuomo noted that about 150 local leaders have signed on to the plan. That was an apparent counter to earlier reports that other local officials have signed a petition against the plan, contending that it’s unrealistic.

Cuomo and Mangano did most of the talking, extolling the push to consolidate local governments as a way to save tax dollars that could then trigger rebates from the state to homeowners. But consolidation is controversial, and there are questions about how fruitful it might be.

While Cuomo speaks of 10,500 local governments, others say that is overstated.

“He is greatly exaggerating,” E.J. McMahon, president of the Empire Center think tank, said of the number, contending that many of those are on paper or so small that they pose negligible costs.

While the 11 park districts in Clifton Park have been mentioned as example of multiple layers, for instance, McMahon said they are mostly run by volunteers. “There isn’t a guy running around in a park district car,” he said.

At one point during the meeting, a reporter asked the local officials if they could name any local government units they would like to quickly eliminate or consolidate, and the question was met with silence.

The proposal also sidesteps the possibility of reforming state labor laws such as the Taylor Law and its Triborough Amendment, which local officials say give an advantage to public sector unions at the bargaining table. The amendment keeps intact certain contract provisions such as automatic longevity increases, even if a contract has expired.

Still, Monday’s event made it clear that Cuomo plans a sustained push to get some kind of property tax freeze plan included the budget that is due April 1.

To do that, Cuomo won’t only have to rally support among local officials. He’ll also have to reconcile different approaches in the Legislature.

So far, the Democratic-led Assembly has offered a circuit breaker as an alternative — which would give homeowners a break based on the percentage of income that goes toward property taxes. Cuomo’s plan includes a circuit breaker that would go into effect after the two-year freeze. And the Republican-led Senate has put up a plan that largely excludes renters.

Cuomo freely admitted that his plan upsets the status quo.

With rebates depending on whether local officials can hold the spending line, they may find themselves in the hot seat come election time if they don’t deliver.

“It is a culture change,” Cuomo said, “and change is very, very hard, especially in government.”

© 2014, Albany Times Union

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