Mandate Relief Committee Meeting with Assemblyman David Buchwald – May 18, 2017
On Friday, May 12, the New Castle Mandate Relief Committee, Warren Gottlieb (WG), Christian Hildenbrand (CH) and Judy McGrath (JM), met with Assemblyman David Buchwald (DB) and his Chief of Staff Alex Roithmayr and Communications Director Kerry Donovan, at the Assemblyman’s office in Mt. Kisco. The purpose of the meeting was to review the work of the New Castle Mandate Relief Committee and to gain DB’s perspective on the issue generally and with regard to the specific recommendations of the Committee.
(JM) began the meeting with an overview of the Committee’s work, and its genesis and evolution since 2015. JM noted at the outset that the purpose and mission of the Committee is not political, inasmuch as the issues it has addressed economically impact all residents of New Castle equally. JM offered as a concrete current example the bid process for the New Castle Streetscape project, and the impact that State Prevailing Wage Law has on budgeting.
DB replied that legislators in New York are people of “good will” and that laws are almost universally passed for a good reason – so one of the key questions he considers in the Mandate Relief context is, What are the countervailing benefits of each particular law or requirement in question? Using Prevailing Wage Law as an example, DB noted that families of workers involved will see a direct benefit in the form of higher wages, which in turn might theoretically make their way back into their local economies in the form of increased spending or investment. A second question that DB considers paramount is feasibility – How feasible is it to actually achieve legislative change, and shouldn’t Relief efforts be focused on situations where it can be done? For example, with regard to the specific issue of New York’s Prevailing Wage Law, DB noted that it is simply not feasible since it is part of the State Constitution.
(WG) noted that this coming fall voters in NY State will be able to vote on whether to convene a Constitutional Convention. DB acknowledged, and offered that he has proposed an amendment stripping pensions from corrupt public officials, but even that level of change has engendered strong resistance. DB also noted that before specific agenda items can be advanced, first voters must agree to convene a Convention, so advocating for too many items in advance may result in a “no” vote to begin with. DB’s suggestion, therefore, is to “start small and establish a pattern” on the issue of Mandate Relief. DB noted also that NY State has slowed the pace of new mandates, so in his view while the problem still persists for municipalities and school districts, it is being compounded less acutely. (One example he cited was the Westchester-Putnam School Board Association’s recent efforts to oppose new legislation.)
WG highlighted the bigger issue of property taxes, and DB agreed – Westchester is the “highest taxed county in the nation,” but noted that it is often due to the quality of the local schools, which is in the end an “enticement” for people to move here.
DB then highlighted the fact that legislators have various tools to address the issue:
1 – Get rid of the Mandate
2 – Advocate for actual funding of Mandates
3 – Create carve outs for specific situations that were not contemplated
4 – Create exceptions for specific units of government, like a school district
5 – Town Boards can make “home rule” requests seeking exemptive relief from certain Mandates [*DB noted that New Castle did not respond on this front when he asked at the beginning of the year.]
The final topic we discussed was the impact of the Triborough Amendment. JM noted that the “playing field is not level” in that union officials have no incentive to bargain in good faith since all existing terms remain in effect, including step increases.
DB made a few points in response:
1 – Triborough is not really a “mandate”; rather it is part of every school and town board’s long term budgeting consideration during contract negotiations
2 – The playing field is even…school and town boards were not REQUIRED to agree to step increases, but once they did, Triborough merely continues those along with all other contract terms (and in fact, salary increases resulting from contract tenure are frozen)
WG also advanced the idea of reforming the “interest arbitration” system, to which DB seemed somewhat receptive, even acknowledging that this was “fair.”
On the topic of pension reform, JM noted the huge costs involved in maintaining an unrealistic defined benefit pension system in NY State; and that over time it should be moved to a defined contribution system. DB had no specific response to this notion.
Finally, WG noted that if the Trump Administration’s current tax reform proposal to eliminate the deduction for state/local taxes becomes law, it will have a devastating effect on local property values. DB agreed, and noted that as New York is ultimately a “donor state” when it comes to reliance on federal government services as compared to tax contributions.
1 – DB appreciates the dialogue, and in a perfect world wishes it occurred sooner
2 – DB stressed that we need to focus on items we can change/that are feasible (e.g., his “special election” cost relief legislation which has saved North Castle $100,000 over two separate special elections). He stated that “our goals may not be the same”.
3 – However, larger items need to be considered in the context of both cost/benefit (i.e. every law was passed for a “good reason” and someone benefits from it even if it increases costs for municipalities)
4 – New Castle should be more aggressive in advocating for home rule relief on specific mandates
5 – DB is willing to reconvene in the fall in advance of the next legislative session to discuss mandate issues which New Castle wants to have addressed
- Continue to insist that the interests of residents be elevated above party politics in addressing the impact of mandates on New Castle. Mandate relief is simply too important of an issue to residents, and all participants in the dialog should approach the challenge accordingly.
- Ask Assemblyman Buchwald to reconsider his position that the Triborough Amendment is not a Mandate. This position presents a philosophical obstacle to securing his assistance with a Mandate the Committee’s 2015 report designates as “High Impact.”
- Seek additional information from Assemblyman Buchwald about how residents of New Castle and other communities in this District should think about cost/benefit when addressing Mandates, specifically those that have a “high impact” economically on our community. Has any analysis been done by the State Legislature that we can share with our community? The costs are very clearly identifiable and known in most cases.
- Seek Assemblyman Buchwald’s assistance in drafting and championing legislation to secure meaningful reform to “interest arbitration” and help level the playing field in the collective bargaining process.
- Examine “Moderate Impact” Mandates from the Committee’s 2015 report to determine if any can be addressed by home rule relief. To the extent any are identified, seek Assemblyman Buchwald’s assistance in drafting and championing legislation in the next session.
- Monitor current tax reform proposal to eliminate the federal income tax deduction for local and state taxes. This was unanimously seen as a tremendous threat to New Castle property values and would further intensify the impact of mandates.
- Coordinate on advocating for a Constitutional Convention in November’s ballot vote. While certain interest groups might be opposed to the notion, our local officials should be supportive especially insofar as many Mandates (Pensions, Prevailing Wage, Triborough) may only be addressed through constitutional amendments.