New York’s many local taxing districts would be able to consolidate under a proposal that has broad political support.
Attorney General Andrew Cuomo yesterday released a memo outlining the shape the legislation is expected to take, though a bill has not yet been introduced.
Consolidation would allow some of the more than 10,521 local governmental entities to be dissolved and subsumed within larger entities in order to streamline government and reduce its cost. Cuomo’s office has been working with the governor’s office as well as the Legislature on the proposal, called the “New N.Y. Government Reorganization and Citizen Empowerment Act.”
“I support the legislation announced earlier today that the attorney general and I have been working on together,” Gov. David Paterson said in a statement. “I am pleased the proposal announced today includes so many of the key initiatives that we have worked together to advance, including a simplified petition process to allow voters to initiate consolidations and dissolutions, as well as safeguards to assure that voters have the final say on the futures of their communities.”
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, plans to co-sponsor the bill with Minority Leader Brian Kolb, R-Canandaigua, in the near future. The proposal has the support of Senate Majority Malcolm Smith, D-Queens, as well.
It wasn’t clear yesterday if Cuomo had crafted an actual bill and his office did not respond to phone calls or e-mails.
Speaking on Long Island yesterday, the attorney general called the existing system of overlapping districts a “hodge-podge quilt” that evolved over decades that needed to be redesigned. He said the process could be initiated by a county executive, who would then need county legislative approval, before taking it to voters in a referendum. The process could also be initiated by voters. In the 1940s there were 2,000 special districts in the state, he said, while today there are more than 6,900said.
“One of the reasons special districts proliferated is it was a shell game with tax dollars,” Cuomo said. “The town or the village set up a special district, transferred a function to the special district, the special district charged you separately for the function, and the town or village said 'look our budget stayed the same.’ ”
Speaking in Albany on Tuesday, Silver said that the legislation could reduce local property taxes in towns by 5% to 22%.
“Reducing those unnecessary layers of government can lower spending and put money back in the hands of property-tax payers and I believe it should be a priority for all of us in the remaining weeks of this legislative session,” the speaker said.
The debt of a village or special district that’s dissolved would be assumed by the town or county into which it was subsumed, but the revenue that backed that debt would remain dedicated to debt service, said Assemblyman Sam Hoyt, D-Buffalo, who chairs the local governments committee and has worked with Cuomo on the proposal.
“The intent is not to place that burden on the county,” he said.
Hoyt said he expects the bill to be introduced within days.