Executive Summary

The State of New York

New York State faces many challenges. But, overall, do New Yorkers think the state is traveling along the correct path? A majority of New York State residents don’t think it is. In fact, 53% believe the Empire State is moving in the wrong direction. 38% disagree and say the state is on track. Those in Western New York express the strongest dissatisfaction. In this region, 68% describe the state as off course.

When it comes to the role the government should play, New Yorkers divide. 48% prefer bigger government providing more services while 47% favor smaller government providing fewer services. However, there are regional differences on this question.

What about the number of local governments in New York State? 45% believe the number of local governments is on target. However, a majority, 55%, disagree. Included in that majority are 45% who say there are too many governments and 10% who report there are too few local governments. Here, too, there are significant regional differences. More residents outside of New York City, compared with those who live in the five boroughs, believe there are too many local governments in New York State.

In contrast to other local government entities, a majority of New Yorkers perceive the number of school districts to be appropriate. 55% of residents say the number of school districts in New York is about right. The 45% of residents who disagree divide. Of those, 23% think there are too few school districts while 22% believe there are too many. Regionally, majorities in all parts of the state, except for Long Island, say the number of school districts is on the mark. On Long Island, half believe this to be the case. One-third thinks there are too many.

On the plus side, most New Yorkers, 85%, give their local government average or above average grades. 60% have confidence in their local leaders, and a majority of residents, 55%, think their taxes are a good value for the money they pay.

Restructure Government? First Impressions

Many terms are associated with the issue of restructuring government. Which words and phrases are perceived positively, and which are perceived negatively? New Yorkers have a positive reaction to shared services (68%), government consolidation (60%), merged services (58%), and regionalism (52%). However, just 31% of residents give a positive meaning to dissolving local government.

There are dueling definitions of government consolidation. Half believe it refers to sharing the costs of services while 44% describe it as merging to form one larger government.

When it comes to the impact of government consolidation, pluralities expect it to decrease costs (48%) and improve efficiency (45%). However, on each question, about one in five residents are not optimistic. Three in ten do not believe it will make a difference when it comes to cost, and 37% report it will not affect efficiency.

Most New Yorkers, 86%, have heard little or nothing at all about consolidating local government in New York State. The exception is in Western New York where 36% have heard either a great deal or good amount about the issue. All but 18% have heard at least a little.

Government Consolidation: Where New Yorkers Stand

Most residents statewide, 87%, think consolidation should be considered in New York State. Included here are 40% who say that all towns or cities statewide should be considered for consolidation and 47% who think consolidation should be weighed under certain circumstances. Only 13% think no towns or cities should be considered for consolidation.

A majority of residents outside of mostly consolidated New York City, 54%, favor consolidating their own local government. Some areas outside of New York City are more polarized than others.

Government Consolidation: Getting Specific

There is consensus among New York residents for consolidating some types of public services. There is also majority support for merging others. The services New Yorkers favor for consolidation are public transportation (73%), road and highway maintenance (68%), park and recreation programs (66%), prisons (57%), and public libraries (56%). However, residents divide about whether or not to consolidate police (51%) and fire or rescue services (48%).

Residents oppose the consolidation of public schools. Only in Western New York does a majority favor consolidating them. Even here, residents closely divide. 51% in Western New York support consolidation of school districts while 48% oppose it.

While residents generally do support the consolidation of recycling (69%), garbage removal (56%), sewage services (55%), or drinking water (53%), notable proportions of New Yorkers who live outside of New York City rely on private means for these services.

Government Consolidation: A Balancing Act

What influences support for consolidation? New Yorkers are more likely to support consolidation if the quality of their local services improves (83%), businesses are more interested in locating to the area (76%), property taxes are lowered (74%), or if the cost of local services decreases (68%). Improved efficiency (64%), less duplication of services (64%), and grant money (61%) also generate support for consolidation.

However, residents are more likely to oppose consolidation if they have less of a say in what happens locally (62%), if costs for their community increase (62%), or if their community loses its sense of identity (56%). There is also a concern if consolidation leads to job loss (50%).

Government Consolidation: Profiling the Positions

To understand the spectrum of opinion on government consolidation, two different aspects are examined. One aspect looks at support or opposition for government consolidation for one’s own local government. The second addresses support or opposition to considering consolidation for towns and cities throughout the state.
Looking at a comparison of these two aspects, a majority of those who support consolidation for their own local government also support it for all towns and cities in the state, 54%. Another 41% think it should be considered statewide only under certain circumstances. Despite supporting it for their own local government, 4% don’t think consolidation should be considered throughout the state.

However, people who are against consolidation for their own community are not against considering consolidation for other localities. One in five think all towns should be considered, and the majority, 58%, say consideration for consolidation should be given under certain circumstances. Just 21% of those who oppose consolidation for their own community say no local governments in the state should be considered for consolidation.

Demography is not a predictor of support. Those who favor consolidation do not differ from people who are against the issue when it comes to gender, age, race, or education. New Yorkers who oppose consolidation are more likely to have an annual income of less than $50,000 a year. Those who support consolidation are somewhat more likely to be employed full-time.

Political party affiliation, how residents describe the place where they live, or how long they have lived there does not affect support for or against consolidation.

So, what, then, does matter? The short answer is attitude. Proponents of government consolidation are more likely to believe there are too many local governments while a majority of those against it say the number is on target. Although supporters and opponents of consolidation both express confidence in their local leaders, opponents are more likely to do so. Most supporters of local government consolidation cite reduced service costs and increased efficiency as the result of consolidation. Opponents, though, do not perceive the disadvantages of consolidation similarly. They divide over what the results of consolidation will be.

When it comes to first impressions, the term shared services yields a positive reaction from even opponents to government consolidation. Notable proportions of those against consolidation for their local government have a positive impression of government consolidation, merged services, and regionalism. Dissolving local government is viewed negatively regardless of whether New Yorkers support or oppose consolidation for their own local government.

Improved quality of services, local business development, and lower property taxes are reasons those on both sides of the argument are more likely to consider consolidation for their own local government. Other positives include lowered costs for public services, less overlap of services, and improved efficiency.

Even a majority of those who favor consolidation for their own local government are less likely to support the action if it means there are no cost savings for the community or if they are left out of the decision-making process. Most opponents agree. Opponents are also concerned about their communities’ loss of identity.

When looking at services, there is consensus among both supporters and opponents for consolidation of public transportation. 61% of those against government consolidation for their own local government are not against consolidating this service. The merging or sharing of road and highway maintenance or park and recreation programs is viewed favorably by nearly half of consolidation opponents. Notable support for consolidating prisons or public libraries is found among those who oppose consolidating their own local government.

There are, however, services that polarize. 66% of those who support consolidation for their own local government favor consolidating police, and 61% think merging fire or rescue services is a good idea. Only about one-third of those who oppose consolidation for their local government believe these services should be considered for consolidation. There is even less support among this group for merging local school districts.

The consolidation of recycling services is viewed favorably by most proponents of government consolidation and a majority of opponents. Most residents who favor restructuring government think consolidation of garbage, sewage services, and drinking water is a good idea. Although notable, only about one-third of residents against consolidation agree.

Living with Consolidation: New York City Residents Rate Their Services

Residents of New York City give most of their services high marks. However, public schools, and road and highway maintenance do not make the grade.