State Senator George Latimer (D-Rye) serves a diverse District 37 with communities from Bedford Hills to parts of New Rochelle and Yonkers. In a recent interview with Examiner News editors he was frank about some of the most pressing issues facing his constituents: taxes and the Common Core Curriculum.
Having heard Governor Cuomo’s State of the State address, Latimer said he was encouraged by the Governor’s message that property taxes should be frozen, but was concerned that he heard nothing specific relating to mandates not funded by the state that were largely responsible for pushing taxes up.
“The problem with high property taxes, though not totally, is that they begin with state unfunded mandates,” Latimer said. “There are large unfunded mandates like county Medicaid costs, which 49 states don’t require, but New York does.”
Acknowledging that if the state took Medicaid back in one fell swoop, it would probably be a $7 billion hit to the state budget that no one would expect, Latimer proposes the Medicaid mandate be phased out over time.
“I support a five-year phase back and would require the county government to reduce the property tax levy by whatever amount is saved,” he said. “Two hundred twenty million dollars is the tax levy impact of the Medicaid mandate. In year one, $40 million of that would be saved.”
Latimer believes smaller mandates such as the MTA payroll tax could be eliminated and is co-sponsoring a bill with District 37 Assemblyman Tom Abinanti (D-Sleepy Hollow) that suggests if the state is going to cap property taxes at 2 percent, then the unfunded mandate for pension costs should also be capped.
“The best way to get property taxes down, not just frozen, is to relieve the state mandates that the local governments must pay and require every dollar saved must be dropped to the bottom line,” he emphasizes. Noting that there are ways the state could fund such a move, Latimer said New York may have the highest property taxes, but it does not have the highest income and business taxes.
Regarding the Circuit Breaker, Latimer supports the concept, but says different municipalities have different needs and what will be considered a significant attempt to share or consolidate services is yet to be determined.
“The Governor is trying to get communities to stay within the tax cap, but schools are now straining after two years. The premise from some state officials is that local communities do not control their expenses, but they do,” Latimer contends. “The easier strategy is to phase out mandates, require that local governments drop their total tax levy by what they are saved and then each municipality can determine locally what they want to do in terms of services.”
With the Board of Regents moving full speed ahead with the Common Core Curriculum, Latimer says that the goal to attain higher standards is laudable. “At some point before they graduate you have to test students and they have to show competency. We have SATs and Regents exams that do that,” Latimer said.
Latimer would like to see a moratorium on the Common Core Curriculum, but figures within a system that wants to move forward quickly, there will be some form of compromise.
“My first concern is that we are doing this without the stakeholders having a buy in. The teachers, administrators, parents, school boards have not been made a partner in the implementation of this. I have learned that you cannot implement something so drastic from the top down. We need a time out and a moratorium on implementation. The Regents does not like that idea. They see a national vision, but it hasn’t been proven by the consumers of the service and hasn’t been proven by the stakeholders,” Latimer said.
Latimer is also not convinced that the collection of so much data is needed and believes it ultimately violates privacy. “Not only are they collecting academic data, but behavioral data as well,” Latimer said. “How will that impact someone in their future?”
Latimer also believes that aggregating data will ultimately bring down those schools that are already doing well. “To treat all school districts the same as if all are equally bad, is a waste of taxpayer money,” he said. “What’s the rush?”
If in five years it turns out that a mistake was made, then those five years are lost on the students who participated. “I don’t want people trying to test their theories of education out on my kid,” he said.