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Behold -- a manifesto for affordable government

   That local governments are  increasingly growing unaffordable to property taxpayers is hardly news to anyone owning a home in New York.

   For a generation, there has been hand-wringing over what to do about it. But with property taxes dominating the talk at so many kitchen tables, a state panel thinks now might actually be the time to do something about it. 

  A 15-member group with a long name -- the New York Commission on Local Government Efficiency and Competitiveness -- thinks it has the ideas for making the hodgepodge and overlapping network of local governments simpler. In the end, that means cheaper.

   It also might mean some glimmer of hope for controlling the rate hikes that have made New York No. 1 in a dubious category of taxes.

   The ideas are not startling new. But they are included in a report, due out in a about a week,  put forth by a group composed of both the private and public sectors, state and local governments. 

   A  draft copy of the report obtained by The Buffalo News contains 76 different recommendations, looking at everything from making it easier for local governments to consolidate services, to having government workers pay more for health insurance coverage.

   But will anyone listen?

   Former Gov. Eliot L. Spitzer created the commission, and no one really knows the appetite that the new governor, David A. Paterson, will have to take on some of the entrenched interests that will line up to kill the panel's ideas. Moreover, it's an election year, which does not always bring a sense of logic to governing. 

   When the full report comes out, look carefully at how Paterson parses his words to either fully embrace the ideas, or if he offers kind of a blow-off response like, "The ideas will be carefully considered by my administration." 

   Look, too, at how aggressively public employee unions, school boards, local mayors and
supervisors react.   

   From all that, an early indication will emerge whether the past year of work by the 15-member board and its six paid staffers was worth the effort or will simply result in just the latest set of ideas to improve government that will gather dust in the reference shelves of the state archives.

  -- Tom Precious


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