Consolidated Medicine

Here’s something that will cure some of the state’s fiscal ailments: municipal consolidation.

New York has hundreds upon hundreds of self-governing jurisdictions, each with its own governing structures, school districts and public services—all of which require mid-level and high-level administrators. On Long Island and upstate, a 20-minute car ride may take you into three, four, or even five distinct municipalities in some of the more congested suburbs, each with its own police and fire department, social services agency, school district superintendent and on and on.

Imagine if some towns decided to combine school districts or realized they only needed one fire chief.

Well, that’s exactly what’s happening—albeit slowly—in New Jersey, home to one of the nation’s most burdensome property taxes. New York ought to study what’s happening across the Hudson River. Consolidation of jurisdictions and new programs to share services may soon become all the rage in high-tax, high-service states that seem in perpetual fiscal chaos.

Governor Cuomo has indicated strong support for consolidation. In his State of the State speech, he pitched consolidation as the best solution to the state’s high property tax burden. He’s giving municipalities financial incentives to find ways to either consolidate or at least share some government services. 

That’s wise policy. But Mr. Cuomo will discover what New Jersey’s governors learned some time ago. Even though consolidation and shared services make so much sense, some towns—or, more to the point, the politicians in some towns—have a hard time surrendering their home-rule traditions. Consolidated school districts have been an especially tough sell in New Jersey, because schools are so closely identified with individual towns.

At a certain point, however, tradition, local pride and small-town politics simply have to give way to fiscal reality. New York State has more than 10,000 local government entities, from city councils to sewer districts, that have tax-writing powers. 

Liberals and conservatives would have to agree that we simply don’t need all that government. If we’re ever going to ease the burden on ordinary property owners—and staunch the flow of families and seniors to low-tax states—we have to figure out how to better share government services across political boundaries and how to actually eliminate some of those boundaries.

Mr. Cuomo is taking a leadership role on this issue. But the real leadership must come from the towns themselves.