Will mandate relief = less useful data?

by E.J. McMahon |  | NY Torch

A sweeping but little-noticed provision in Governor Cuomo’s 2013-14 Executive Budget would, in the words of this Article VII bill memo, “eliminate all local government and school district reporting requirements to state agencies unless the Mandate Relief Council votes to continue them.”

The purpose, also as described in the memo, is to “provide local governments and school districts with relief from burdensome reporting requirements.” Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of such requirements would be wiped out by April 1, 2014. Before then:

Every state agency or authority would be required to refer all reporting requirements to the Mandate Relief Council by September 1, 2013. They would also report whether they believe a reporting requirement is necessary and should be continued. The Council would review such requests and may approve the continuation of such reports.

Sounds good — if you don’t give a thought to unintended consequences.

After all, some of those “burdensome” reporting requirements are the taxpayers’ only portal into the kind of comparative local data you’ll find here. Or take, for example, the School Property Tax Report Card. Its implementation, starting a decade ago, served to spotlight and document an alarming growth spurt in school taxes and spending. This, in turn, galvanized public support for Governor Cuomo’s own property tax cap. Indeed, if it wasn’t for local reporting requirements, the governor’s office wouldn’t have been able to issue this press release ballyhooing the tax cap’s “successful first year.”

The information generated by many local government reports to the state is not only essential to understanding what’s going on in counties, municipalities and school districts; it’s also is needed to effectively implement statewide reforms. For example, a separate Cuomo budget bill proposal would allow for some restriction* of binding arbitration awards to police and firefighter unions, providing the public employer qualifies as “distressed” based on, among other things, the full value property tax burden “as reported to the office of the state comptroller.” So how is the state supposed to implement the new arbitration law without local reports on property taxes?

This presumably well-intentioned wipe-out of reporting provisions, subject to lots and lots of time-consuming bureaucratic churn in and around the Cuomo-controlled Mandate Relief Council, doesn’t seem to have been given much thought by the governor’s office. Or maybe it was: it certainly sounds like a way to save the Council the effort of actually discriminating among worthwhile and wasteful reporting requirements, which localities are already free to suggest eliminating on their own.

Perhaps this provision will disappear or be greatly amended by the governor in 30-day amendments.  If not, the Legislature should keep an eraser handy.

(* It’s not really much of a restriction, but that’s a subject for another post.)

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- E.J. McMahon is the Research Director at the Empire Center for Public Policy.