March 5, 2003
Senate proposes mandate relief, tort reform-top Council priorities
The Republican Senate Majority has proposed mandate relief and tort reform as key parts of a sweeping proposal to help local governments operate better and cut costs.
"This package of budget and legislative proposals represents real relief from frivolous lawsuits, increased pension costs, growing Medicaid expenses and a broad range of other mandates that are costing local governments and taxpayers billions of dollars," Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno said.
The Senate proposal cited landmark research by The Business Council's research affiliate, The Public Policy Institute, in proposing several long-time Business Council tort-reform priorities. These include:
- Repealing joint and several liability, under which a defendant can be forced to pay all damages even if its liability is determined to be minimal.
- Creating a $250,000 cap on non-economic damages in tort cases.
- Extending jurisdiction of the state Court of Claims to include suits against localities. Suits against the state are already heard in this court, in which the excessive verdicts common in other civil courts are almost unheard of.
"Every sector of New York's economy is affected by the threat of virtually open-ended liability created by the state's current tort laws and unfortunately municipalities throughout our state face the brunt of this out of control system," said Senator Dale M. Volker. "Just about everybody loses in the ongoing game of lawsuit lottery."
The Senate also proposed:
- Reform of the state's notorious Wicks Law, which needlessly
inflates the costs of public construction projects by requiring
multiple contractors on projects with total estimated costs
of more than $50,000. The Senate proposed a phased-in increase
in this threshold.
- Various mandate relief proposals, including: authorizing
credit card payments of taxes, fees and civil penalties
to municipalities; removing state Comptroller approval from
many purely local decisions; easing service mergers and
sharing property taxes for local governments; exempting
New York City schools from state procurement laws; authorizing
local governments to accept bids electronically; and others.
- A constitutional amendment to prohibit state laws that
would impose unfunded mandates on local governments and
- Restructuring the state pension system to allow localities
to amortize over five years an increase in their pension
contributions over 25 percent. Counties would also be permitted
to issue debt for local contributions for the Early Retirement
and Incentive Program enacted in 2002.
- Eliminating the requirement that counties pay the state nearly $172 million that was advanced to counties over the last several years for Medicaid, and measures to crack down on Medicaid fraud and abuse.
The $163 Lightbulb, a 1999 book by Robert Ward of The Public Policy Institute of New York State, concluded that broad mandate reform in Albany could save local taxpayers as much as $5 billion a year.