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Senator Mike Ranzenhofer says Senate Bill 4067 was the lesser of two evils during the recently-ended legislative session. That’s why he voted “Yes” on it.

And since the bill passed the Senate last Thursday, there’s been huge public uproar. That has now driven Ranzenhofer to defend his vote to his constituents.

Senate Bill 4067 would allow school districts in Upstate New York to fund the rising cost of pension by issuing 15-year bonds to pay for increases beyond their current contribution level of 8.62%.

The controversy arises from how the bonds would be repaid. According to the language in the legislation, districts would adopt the bonds “without conducting a vote on a tax to be collected in installments not extending beyond fifteen years.“ In other words, repayment on the bonds would be taxpayer-funded – but without a vote for taxpayer approval.

Senate Bill 4067 would override the much-heralded 2% property tax cap which passed the Legislature last week. But Ranzenhofer says it’s a move that had to be made.

“What propelled me to vote for it is: I was very frustrated that there was no (mandate) relief for pension in this year’s budget,” he tells WBTA. “And pensions are killing municipalities and school districts – in turn, killing taxpayers.”

Ranzenhofer says he was always a fan of the property tax cap – as long as it was coupled with mandate relief. He says recently-passed mandate relief did not go far enough to help school districts and municipalities.

But Ranzenhofer also disputes that Bill 4067 would have allowed districts to circumvent the tax cap he so vehemently supported.

“It wasn’t a way to allow them to avoid the cap,” he says. “It allowed them to deal with a situation where, in the next two years, their contribution levels are going to be 20-30% higher than where they’ve been.”

Ranzenhofer says his yes vote was therefore “a message vote,” alerting other legislators and the governor that pension mandate relief is a serious need on the local level. He points out that last year, he was the only Senator to oppose a bill allowing the extension of so-called “pension sweeteners” for another 36 months.

“This has been an issue that’s been very important to me,” he says.

Governor Andrew Cuomo has promised to veto the bill, which also passed the Assembly last week (local Assemblyman Steve Hawley abstained from the vote due to absence). Ranzenhofer says he won’t be disappointed when that happens, because he still feels the Legislature has sent Cuomo a message that pension mandates must be addressed soon.

(When the tax cap ruminations first began back in January, WBTA News asked Ranzenhofer for his opinion on school districts’ complaints that a tax cap combined with expensive mandates and declining state aid would deeply affect them. Ranzenhofer told WBTA that he supported pension reform first and foremost. “People in the public sector have very, very generous pensions…there needs to be some reality check on that.”

The subject of pension reform was not addressed in the interview today.)

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