About the Comprehensive Plan:
On December 11, 2008 Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo unveiled legislation to empower communities across the state with the ability to fundamentally reorganize and consolidate local governments.
Simply put, our system of local government is broken. It has been outpaced by globalization, regionalization, and an ever changing marketplace. The density of local government in New York is astounding. There are 10,521 overlapping government units, providing duplicative services creating needless, wasteful bureaucracies.
Given the current fiscal crisis New York is facing, reorganization of some governmental entities to more efficiently provide vital services is needed. In some cases, consolidation or dissolution may be necessary to reorganize government to meet the needs of their communities. However, current law is unable to solve the problem for it is inconsistent, often nonsensical, poses legal barriers, and includes anachronisms that make operational reform virtually impossible.
- The law is inconsistent regarding consolidation of local governmental entities. Under current law, there are differing rules for various types of governments. For instance, there are specific measures to consolidate or dissolve special districts, depending on the type of special district. Moreover, there are different rules for villages, towns, and special districts. These complex set of rules that vary wildly based upon the type of government makes if virtually impossible to consolidate or dissolve governments.
- The law is filled with anachronisms. More disturbing is that the law contains provisions that are relics of the past that conjure up images of “poll taxes.” In some cases, an individual may vote to dissolve or consolidate governments, such as special districts, only if they own taxable real property in the area.
- The law contains many legal barriers. For instance, town boards are powerless to consolidate or dissolve certain types of special districts, while citizens are powerless to initiate certain types of consolidation or dissolution of special districts.
The Attorney General is proposing legislation that streamlines existing processes, eliminates inane inconsistencies, and strikes from the law offensive anachronisms such as requiring property ownership in order to vote in a special town election on a proposition to consolidate water districts.
It is a system almost nobody understands, least of all the people served by it. New Yorkers have the highest local tax burden in the country that dwarfs other states and far exceeds the national average. By consolidating governments and services, taxpayers could save millions of dollars annually.
Special districts were created to assist towns facing population explosions caused by the migration of people away from cities after World War II. They were established to offer service delivery to properties in a specific area of a town. Special districts have grown dramatically since 1940.
In 1940, there were 2,000 special districts and by 2000, there were over 6,000.
Long Island has become a special district archipelago. Nassau and Suffolk Counties combined have over 340 special districts. The result of the hodgepodge is multiple tax bills. A person pays county and town taxes, village taxes, school taxes and taxes for special districts.
WHY IS THE ATTORNEY GENERAL INVOLVED?
The Attorney General’s Office has been doing its part to address the problem of local government dysfunction. Over the past 19-months, the office has been conducting statewide investigations into waste, fraud and abuse at various levels of government. Those investigations have already resulted in numerous settlements and convictions that have saved taxpayers millions of dollars. Every case of fraud, no matter how small, can create big problems for the state.
As the state’s chief legal officer, Attorney General Cuomo is often tasked with advising local governments on laws regulating them. It is clear that current laws are filled with inconsistencies, complexities, and anachronisms making meaningful reform in the current environment unattainable.
NEW YORK’S PAST SUCCESS
The conventional wisdom is that government could not be reorganized. Reports were written, but nothing got done. It has gone on for years. But, ultimately, leadership made the difference.
In the early part of the 20th century, the structure of New York State’s Government was every bit as bad as the current state of our local government system. But, what these dire times present is an opportunity.
Take for instance school districts. In 1947, a statewide Master Plan for School District Reorganization was enacted an although not a compulsory plan for reorganization, the Master Plan guided state level efforts to encourage reduction in the still-large number of school districts. The result was the reduction of the number of schools from 10,000 to less than 700 today.
People like Al Smith — supported by reformers, the media, and good government organizations made the impossible possible. In the 1920s, New York comprehensively reformed the structure of State government and created a model emulated by states throughout the nation. It was then one of the greatest achievements in American politics.
It has always been our mission to solve the nation’s problems first here in New York and serve as an example.