ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — A new public rating system in New York will offer objective data to taxpayers and local officials who will soon face even more painful fiscal choices.
State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli said Monday that his planned “early warning system” will provide numbers to clearly rate reserves, debt, cash on hand and other measures for villages, towns, school districts, cities and counties.
The crisis has forced municipalities in other states to declare bankruptcy or drastically increase taxes. In New York, taxes have increased even as local governments shed workers to deal with declining tax bases amid sharply rising payments for public pensions and health insurance.
“We’re certainly trying to avoid a crisis,” DiNapoli said in an interview Monday. “If you know early where the trouble spots are, It will ensure you have a full airing of what options there are to deal with the challenges.”
But DiNapoli said the public ratings are also aimed at taxpayers and the general public: “They shouldn’t be the last to know.”
The information to be released publicly is expected to provide facts that could enter current debates over further spending cuts by local governments and the potential need for bailouts from Albany, an idea that has so far been rejected by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
DiNapoli’s system, however, provides no answers to local governments facing diminishing tax bases, high employee costs and unfunded but mandated spending from Albany.
“Rather than helping municipalities measure a fiscal problem of which local officials are already well aware, the state should be identifying solutions and taking the steps necessary to alleviate the financial pressures confronting cities and villages,” said Peter Baynes of the New York Conference of Mayors and Municipal Officials.
“The state has been a partner in creating the fiscal stress crashing down on municipalities,” Baynes said. “Now is the time for the state to be a part of the solution to this growing fiscal crisis. Without state assistance, local governments are left with only one choice: continue to reduce municipal workforces and the essential services they provide.”
In Albany, Cuomo and the Legislature claimed a major victory in imposing a 2 percent cap in the growth of local government and school property taxes, unless a supermajority of residents or government board members vote to suspend the cap. That 2011 measure was supposed to be paired with eliminating some of the state’s unfunded mandates on local governments including mandates that ease pressure on the state’s budget, but that relief has never been passed.
DiNapoli’s proposed system has been released for public comment. The first rankings are due by the end of the year.