The Municipal Government Liberation Front

After recounting the drift of the New York GOP, which has utterly failed to offer an attractive alternative to the agenda of Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Nicole Gelinas of the Manhattan Institute recommends that the party focus on freeing local governments from crippling state-imposed unfunded mandates:

Republicans would be better served if they turned their attention to one major issue: Cuomo’s apparent unwillingness to help local governments control their costs as they stagger under the weight of unfunded mandates. At a downstate conference presented in June by the newspaper City & State, executives from Erie, Rensselaer, and Ulster Counties—two Democrats and a Republican—joined Syracuse mayor Stephanie Miner, a Democrat, in pleading for help. Yet on this critical and politically promising issue, Skelos punted and waved through Cuomo’s “financial structuring board,” allowing the governor to maintain the fiction that he’s helping local governments.

The GOP leadership could make easing mandates on local governments the highlight of its autumn agenda. It could start with repealing the Triborough Amendment, which forces local governments to adhere to the terms of bad labor contracts even after the contracts have expired. Republicans should also push for a bill empowering local governments to set health-care premium requirements for their workers separately from their collective-bargaining agreements with unions—enabling the governments to increase the employees’ premiums as costs rise.

Easing mandates on local governments isn’t exactly the most scintillating agenda. And as David Schleicher has observed, Republicans in blue states face serious constraints:

Most votes in state legislative elections turns on impressions we develop about national politics — we punish and reward state officials largely for what Congress and the president do, rather than for what they do themselves. The same is true in city council elections in big cities. High-profile state and local candidates can successfully develop a brand for themselves that permits them to outperform their party (like Dave Freudenthal, the recent Democratic governor of Idaho, and Michael Bloomberg, who became mayor of New York City as a Republican), but down-ballot results are almost entirely determined by national party preference.

But Gelinas’s proposed agenda has the virtue of being coherent, substantive, and relevant to New York state voters.

Reihan Salam — Reihan Salam is executive editor of National Review and a National Review Institute policy fellow.

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