10.01.2008 0

Empire State to Go on Diet?

  • On: 10/06/2008 13:52:25
  • In: Taxes
  • A new proposal by a New York State commission would drastically consolidate services throughout the State at a local level and, says the commission, would help to relieve residents of some of the highest property taxes in the nation to the tune of more than $1 billion. So reports the New York Times:

    “The commission recommended centralizing at the county level functions like tax collection and emergency dispatch, encouraging school districts and village courts to consolidate back-office functions and ending compensation and perks for special district commissioners.

    “‘Taxes are high because governments spend money,’ said Howard S. Weitzman, a commission member and the comptroller for Nassau County, which has among the most special districts in the state. ‘And therefore, the less government we have, the less money we’ll be spending.’

    “The commission also proposed requiring more local government and school district employees to make contributions to their health insurance plans, a controversial step that the commissioners said was necessary to slow the increase in local government spending on benefits. And under legislation proposed by the commission and supported by Governor Paterson, the state commissioner of education would be granted the power to order school districts to consolidate.”

    On its surface, the proposal would appear to limit the excesses of government throughout the State with an eye to eliminating redundancies, such as tax collection and garbage collection. It would also eliminate the power of localities like towns and villages to collect taxes. However, proposals such as granting sweeping powers to the Department of Education to consolidate school districts without the support of residents is something that needs to be closely examined.

    According to Governor David Paterson, a Democrat, who supported the commission’s recommendations, local boards have become “patronage mills,” wherein officials get elected and then hand out jobs to partisans or even creating new (and often unnecessary) positions at taxpayer’s expense. Just who are these officials working for? According to the story:

    “The commission identified thousands of local government entities distinct from county, city, town and village governments, including a profusion of ‘special districts’ created to provide water, library and other services to the state’s sprawling suburbs. Those entities are studded with appointive jobs and many can levy taxes, helping give New York ‘arguably the most complex property tax system in the nation,’ according to the commission’s final report.”

    That’s a lot of government, even by New York’s command-and-control standards. How much is a lot? Says the commission in a letter to New Yorkers:

    “Our Commission was launched with the conviction that New Yorkers are living under a very outdated local government structure. The vast majority of our municipalities were established and their boundaries set during the horse-and-buggy era. There are also outdated laws and offices for which no modern rationale exists. Over the years we have added to this outdated system, but rarely simplified, and today we have nearly 5,000 local government entities.”

    5,000! That would account for about 5.6 percent of all government out of the some 88,000 units of government throughout the United States. That is a lot a government, proving once again that Americans, especially in New York, are overtaxed, overregulated, and overgoverned. The burden posed by government in New York ranks it 48th in terms of tax competitiveness by the Tax Foundation.

    Unsurprisingly, the commission’s recommendations drew the ire of labor unions and school superintendents. From the story:

    “Some of the recommendations, however, were quickly criticized by labor unions and school superintendents, whose ranks would bear the brunt of some of the changes… ‘The report unfortunately presents a one-sided point of view on how local governments can achieve cost savings in New York State, and unfairly places the burden of solving the cost issue squarely on the shoulders of working men and women, and in particular, our public workforce,’ said Denis M. Hughes, the president of the state A.F.L.-C.I.O.”

    Of course, the burden that public sector unions place upon the system in large part explains the high tax rates that New Yorkers face on an annual basis. In particular, limiting the benefits which public employees would receive is certainly necessary since it contributes greatly to the unsustainable growth of government.

    In addition to reorganizing the State at a local level, and something the commission was not tasked at looking at, is to look at the waste that occurs on the State level itself. ALG News would be cautiously optimistic about the commission’s proposal, which appears to centralize government control in some sectors, particularly in education. Such drastic reorganization at the local level, however, could be more palatable if it were coupled with severe limits on what could be done at the State level itself, lest New Yorkers wind up with a government that is too top-heavy.

    The commission’s recommendations also drew some support of the State Senate Majority Leader, Joseph Bruno, a Republican:

    “‘Everything that we can do to help minimize the cost structure in New York State is critically important,’ Mr. Bruno, a Republican, said. ‘It starts at the local level.’”

    And certainly, the government that governs least governs best.

    ALG Perspective: The commission’s proposals are certainly very interesting, but Americans for Limited Government takes them with a grain of salt. To the extent that those municipalities have sprawled out of control, creating a maze of bureaucracy throughout the State, ALG is sympathetic to the findings of the commission. However, one of the benefits of local government is local control in the hands of the people. A balance needs to be struck so that the voice of the people at a local level is not extinguished. While it is true that New Yorkers are clearly overburdened by government at all levels, one must always be cautious centralizing power in the hands of a few.

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