Lalor on Energy Tax and Unfunded Mandates

By Kieran Lalor, on Dec 6, 2013

“In the last few days I was asked by constituents to do something about the County proposal to increase taxes on home electricity and heating. Yesterday, I was also asked by Dutchess County Legislator Michael Kelsey to help research an alternative to the plan to increase taxes on home energy.” 

“We proposed a plan that would have avoided the painful tax increases, balance the county budget, improve quality, affordable public college education and turn unfunded mandates back on the state.”

“This is what fighting for the taxpayer and combating unfunded mandates looks like. It is always going to be unpopular with some. It’s often going to be controversial. It will likely cost some supporters. But, I said I was going to stand up for the taxpayer and battle unfunded mandates so I did and I will continue to do so.”

The Plan

“It’s a simple plan. Dutchess County would tell New York State to pay for the county’s share of Dutchess Community College (DCC). Why? Dutchess County is crushed under $200 million in unfunded mandates from Albany every year. That’s why your property taxes are sky-high. That’s why your kids or your parents can’t afford to live in New York. That’s why DCC graduates have to leave the state to find jobs. Dutchess County would tell Albany that unfunded mandates have to stop and Albany needs to help out. New York State would absorb DCC into the SUNY system, preserving and even strengthening the school’s quality, affordable public education. Nothing would change for students or faculty. Everything would change for unfunded mandates.”

“Don’t let defenders of the status quo fool you; this plan preserves DCC and prevents tax hikes. The plan even strengthens the future of our community colleges by tying them into the strong SUNY system. That’s a good thing for students, faculty, staff, and parents. The only losers might be overpaid college presidents.”

“I know the value DCC provides and the quality of the students. One of my staffers is an 18-year-old freshman at the school. He is a real talent that I’m proud to work with.”

The Details

“The alternative we developed involves the county no longer providing the approximately $10 million it gives each year to Dutchess Community College (DCC) and having the state fill in the gap. Dutchess already goes by the name SUNY Dutchess. It now has dorms. I t is a logical step for the state to absorb Dutchess into the SUNY system. Nothing has to change with the day-to-day operations of the school. DCC has a fund balance of about $12 million. That’s 20% of their budget sitting in the bank. I’m not saying to deplete the fund. However, I think it is legitimate to ask why Dutchess County taxpayers are going to be taxed to turn the lights and heat on in their homes when we could tell Albany to pay for DCC instead, preventing a tax increase.”

“No doubt, some will use scare tactics like claiming layoffs and tuition hikes will necessarily ensue if this plan was enacted. That kind of demagoguery and turf protection is precisely what prevents the kind of real fiscal reforms we need at all levels of government from happening. It also chills debate and hinders problem solving.” 

Bold Immediate Action on Unfunded Mandates

“In addition to avoiding the very painful tax on home energy sources, the idea proposed is revolutionary because the county is essentially putting an unfunded mandate back on the state. The state tells the county to provide services but doesn’t fund them to the tune of about $200 million per year. The proposal basically tells the state that their unfunded mandates have gobbled up too much of the county budget and as a result we cannot afford the $10 million per year that the county gives to DCC.”

“Residents and local officials are rightly tired of all the talk about unfunded mandates. They are calling for bold action against unfunded mandates. This proposal is a real money-saving solution that mitigates the damage unfunded mandates cause county governments and municipalities. It also gives the state a taste of its own medicine which will get the attention of those in power who refuse to address the unfunded mandate problem.” 

“Last night I proposed this solution to the County Legislature during the public comment period of the Legislature's hearing. The budget is not due until December 10 and I believe we should explore every option thoroughly before taxing electricity and heating fuel. I suggested the County Legislature take a few days before passing the budget to explore this and any other viable options before imposing the tax on home energy.”   

“The Legislature chose to pass the budget last night and the home energy tax, which is their prerogative. Although the proposal was not adopted, I am proud that I took a stand and offered an alternative solution that could have simultaneously solved the immediate budget problems without taxing home energy and changed the unfunded mandate dynamic in favor of the overburdened municipalities. We need to continue this dialogue.

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