POUND RIDGE, N.Y. – Unfunded mandates, education and grant money made for some lively discussion at Saturday's Pound Ridge Supervisor’s Forum.
Pound Ridge town officials met publicly with state Assemblyman Bob Castelli (R-Goldens Bridge) and Senator Greg Ball (R-Patterson) for the monthly discussion at the Town House.
Supervisor Gary Warshauer started the forum off by asking Castelli and Ball to explain how the Assembly and Senate work together to get things done.
Castelli said the challenge is getting the two parties together in a bi-partisan spirit.
“It’s an interesting dynamic,” Castelli said. “Making friends with potential adversaries takes some doing. But when I first came into office no one failed to extend their hand to me. Right now, the governor is leading from the front. He understands the nuances of getting it done from sitting at the feet of his father (former Gov. Mario Cuomo).”
Warshauer raised the issue of unfunded mandates, pointing out that the state often requires towns to spend money but offers no relief.
“We wrestle with whether all these requirements are necessary,” the supervisor said. “Things like a police chief I can understand. But three-quarters of our ticket revenue goes to the state and we operate at a loss. There’s no incentive to write them other than public safety.”
Castelli explained that not all mandates are created equally.
“Medicaid – we have met the enemy and that’s what it is,” he said, noting it takes up a significant portion of the state budget. Some parts of the state embrace it – such as New York City – while others parts find it burdensome, he said.
Council member Dick Lyman complained about the bureaucracy and red tape that seems to permeate Albany.
“What will it take to reign in the bureaucracy that has an enormous amount of power?” he asked. “It is stifling business.”
Castelli responded that there are around 700 public authorities throughout the state, but the legislature has no oversight when it comes to them. He said he believed that nearly 600 of them could be consolidated or eliminated. He cited the MTA as an example. He said that Albany just eliminated 80 percent of the MTA payroll tax, and noted that the agency seems to be surviving just fine.
“But how long did we push for an MTA forensic audit [of the MTA] – two and half years?” he said. “And it’s just getting going now. It is areas like this where we need to be able to reign [spending] in and be masters of our own house.”
Castelli said municipalities need to speak out and inform the legislature of the problems they face.
“You’re voice counts,” he said. “You have to make it heard. If you don’t write the letter they won’t hear you. Fracking is a good example. The feeling in Albany was one way, but then there was a paradigm shift when they got over 70,000 opposing it. They were reading everyone.”