The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has turned our daily lives upside down, and state and local governments face unprecedented shortfalls. Rebuilding our economy and prioritizing funding will be more difficult than ever before. But, as is often the case, with great challenges comes great opportunity.
Long before COVID-19 reached our state, New York was plagued by years of overspending and inefficient government. Due to decades of mismanagement in Albany, residents pay some of the highest taxes in the nation, and excessive regulation drives up the cost of providing goods and services.
As we prepare for the governor, budget director and state Legislature to make recommendations on how to balance the budget, I would implore them to first look at state mandates. Reducing the cost-drivers will make cuts less painful, and reduce long-term cost and spending obligations. We do not need more commissions to “reimagine things” — we need to listen to people who work in their fields every day and see firsthand regulations that are beneficial and ones that only add more cost and paperwork. There have been endless commissions and studies looking at waste in New York state government, and there are countless binders filled with reports and recommendations that have never been seriously considered. Inefficiencies and duplicative regulations drive billions of dollars in wasteful spending, but have little or no impact on service. Before state leaders talk about the tough decisions that need to be made, they should first proactively ask about what can be done to make the situation less painful.
In the end, we must demand our government do the same thing that residents do every day. When financial situations change, we can’t hope for more money from the bank. Instead, we must find ways to save money and reduce costs to make the situation better on our own. Residents deserve to know that their state government is doing the same.
In addition, we must prioritize essential services and public health. Despite local governments facing increasing budget shortfalls and a public health crisis, the recently passed budget mandates upstate counties use $50 million in sales tax revenue to replace state funding cuts. At the same time, the budget created a new taxpayer-funded election system at a cost of $100 million and set aside over $400 million for Hollywood production companies.
To recommend cuts to schools, hospitals and cost shifts to local governments, while protecting spending for taxpayer funded-elections and subsidies to Hollywood is simply wrong. Similarly, residents already pay some of the highest combined tax rates in the nation and we cannot tax our way out of this problem.
If we need something to reimagine, we should start with New York state government.
Ed Rath is an Erie County legislator and a candidate for New York state senator for the 61st District, representing the towns of Amherst, Clarence and Newstead in Erie County; all of Genesee County; and the towns of Chili, Riga and the city of Rochester in Monroe County.