On Tuesday, Governor Andrew Cuomo will reveal a budget that will address a $10 billion deficit. He's expected to call for massive layoffs of state workers, at the same time propose a cap on property taxes.
A tax cap may be good news for the people at the Salina Town Hall who just made Monday's deadline for paying their property taxes. They realize whatever reforms Cuomo proposes will have to pass the State Legislature. Lucille Russell has confidence in Cuomo's ability to accomplish his campaign pledge to reform Albany. "I think he can. I voted for Cuomo and I believe in him." she told CNY Central's Jim Kenyon.
This year's tax bill in Salina has a line called "state mandated costs". The dollar figure represents a property owner's expenditures for costs the state forces county governments to make with little or no state aid. The big ones are medicaid, welfare costs and contributions to the state pension system.
Onondaga County Executive Joanie Mahoney says this year for the first time, state mandated costs take up every dollar residents pay in property taxes. Just outside the Salina Tax Office, Supervisor Mark Nicotra posted his own property tax bill to show how much he paid for state mandates. "I don't know if we're finger pointing," he said, "but we're putting information together to let people know where their money is going."
Onondaga County Comptroller Robert Antonacci says he's "rooting for the Governor to do the right thing. There's a candy store of reform out there."
Antonacci says the governor must cut spending, but at the same time can't force counties to take over those costs. "It's unsustainable. We can't continue to have $10 billion (deficit) this year, another $8 billion next year and unless we reform medicaid of the pension system."
Every County and municipality in New York has to pay into the state retirement system for their employees. According to Comptroller Antonacci, Onondaga County's pension costs was $17 million in 2010 and is expected to top $35.8 million next year despite two years of layoffs. "Our actual dollar amount of our salaries is actually down, but our pension cost has doubled in two years."
Antonacci supports reform to the retirement system. For instance, a state employee's pension is based on his or her last three years of employment. Under the current system, the worker can "pad" his pension if he or she is allowed to put in massive amounts of overtime. The New York Daily News recently found a downstate health care worker who made so much overtime , his pension would be $96,000 a year even though his base salary is $62,000.
"There have been some reforms, but it's not gone far enough." Antonacci said
Nicotra says the current state pension system will eventually get so costly, he'll have to cut services just to pay for past employees who've retired. "Continuing at this rate, it's unsustainable and it will bankrupt government at some point."