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February 3, 1999  

Mayors: Local taxpayers need mandate relief, tort reform
Giuliani, other local officials ask for state help to cut local taxes

Action in Albany to reform state mandates and New York's civil justice system would help reduce local taxes and improve services of municipal governments, local elected officials told key lawmakers this week.

New York City Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani and other elected officials representing counties, cities, towns and villages were unanimous in asking the Legislature to approve Governor Pataki's proposals to reform mandates--which The Business Council also supports strongly--and to go further.

The local officials' calls for mandate relief and tort reform were largely unreported by the media.

Giuliani pointed to the Governor's proposal to lift the threshold for application of the Wicks Law, which requires multiple contractors on public construction projects. The law, which now affects projects valued at $50,000 or more, would instead apply to projects valued at $2 million in most municipalities, and $10 million in New York City.

"I applaud the Governor's support of Wicks reform, but I urge that the reform go further," the Mayor said. The law, he said, "is wasteful and must be repealed in its entirety."

Giuliani called reform of the state's civil justice system "another critical mandate relief item."

"Tort reform would enable the City to continue to compensate injured parties reasonably while preventing tort costs from escalating uncontrollably," he said.

New York City expects to spend $391 million on judgments and claims this fiscal year. A recent report by City Comptroller Alan G. Hevesi predicted that figure will rise over the next three years to $453 million--more than the entire collections from the city's commercial rent tax or its sales tax on clothing.

Giuliani pointed to "two key components" of the city's tort reform proposal. One would provide "a reasonable cap" of $250,000 on pain-and-suffering awards. The second would establish a minimum medical expense threshold of $5,000 for plaintiffs seeking non-economic damages, to prevent major awards to claimants with minor injuries.

Syracuse Mayor Roy Bernardi, president of the New York State Conference of Mayors, said local officials and taxpayers "need mandate relief, not mandate rhetoric.

"For the past several years many important mandate relief proposals have been advanced by the Governor and legislators, yet minimal relief has actually become law," Bernardi said. He called for "significant mandate reforms," including changes to the Wicks Law, this year.

G. Jeffrey Haber, executive director of the Association of Towns, said 75 percent of total town construction costs are for projects in the range of $1 million to $4 million. Costs for those projects would be cut under the Governor's Wicks reform plan.