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State lawmakers vow continued mandate relief fight despite difficulties

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LOWVILLE — Two state lawmakers told Lewis County officials last week that they will continue to work on mandate relief, although the task is a difficult one.

“Things move very slowly,” said state Sen. Joseph A. Griffo, R-Rome.

“We’re not giving up,” added Assemblyman Kenneth D. Blankenbush, R-Black River.

Board of Legislators Vice Chairman Michael A. Tabolt, R-Croghan, who set up the meeting with the county’s state representatives, said he has been frustrated with the lack of progress in mitigating the financial burden on counties for state-mandated programs and services.

“I have yet to see any real results,” said Mr. Tabolt, who over the past couple of years has attended several New York State Association of Counties sessions and other meetings in Albany.

Mr. Griffo and Mr. Blankenbush, as past county officials themselves, said they were sympathetic to the county lawmakers’ concerns.

“You’re talking to the choir when you talk to me about mandate relief,” Mr. Blankenbush said.

Mr. Griffo said the state has made some progress in that area over the past couple of years, including pension reform that should help control future costs and a cap on growth of Medicaid costs.

“I think we need to do more, but I think it’s a step in the right direction,” he said.

Mr. Griffo said that mandate relief measures in the Senate are often stalled by a split between representatives of more urban and rural regions, while Mr. Blankenbush said the Democratic majority in the Assembly tends to vote down any such bills brought up by GOP members.

“A lot of these bills never made it out of committee,” the Black River assemblyman said.

The state’s financial difficulties also make it more difficult to offer counties and other local municipalities substantial cost savings, and the expense of cleaning up from Superstorm Sandy could make that situation even worse, Mr. Griffo said.

Another issue is that most mandated programs have “constituencies” that have a vested interest in their continuation, he said.

However, both state lawmakers said they plan to keep reintroducing proposed mandate relief measures, with the intent of making enough changes so they eventually will pass both chambers of the state Legislature.

Mr. Griffo said he plans, in the coming year, to propose a three-pronged approach that would include a moratorium on new mandates, exhaustive review of existing ones and a requirement that any future ones have funding attached so as not to further burden municipalities.

He also would like to see state bureaucrats allow individual counties or groups of counties to undertake “demonstration projects” that it is hoped would show ways to save money on mandated programs while still meeting federal standards for those programs.

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