Friday, May 20, 2005

Alice In Wonderland

Hempstead Supervisor Kate Murray blasted a proposal that Nassau residents pay up to four percent of their income to help finance school districts in the county. The proposal, by the Chairman of Nassau's Board of Assessors, was made at a meeting in Mineola.
The Supervisor expressed outrage at the Assessor's county income tax plan in a letter to lawmakers who represent Hempstead Town in the New York State Legislature. An income tax could not be imposed on Nassau residents without legislative approval.
"Our residents are already overtaxed," Ms. Murray wrote in a letter to senators and assembly members. "Adding an income tax to the already lengthy list of taxes that citizens pay to finance local governments and schools would drive residents out of Nassau County. In addition, it would make the county less competitive from a business standpoint, slashing the number of jobs that are available here and reducing our commercial tax base.
"In short, taking up to four percent of the money earned by wage earners in Nassau is not in the best interest of our county or of the residents we mutually serve," the Supervisor's letter said.
In support of his proposal, the Assessor argued that a levy on residents' income would reduce the number of tax refunds that the county was ordered to make because property tax payments were based on incorrect real estate assessments. He also argued that an income tax would force renters to join property owners in financing school districts.
Supervisor Murray pointed out, however, that courts would not order tax refunds if the assessor's office was properly valuing real estate. Further, she called the assessor's renter argument "disingenuous," in that, according to press accounts, he is considering a "renter's deduction" as part of the income tax plan.
The Supervisor also attacked the Assessor's suggestion that property tax payments made by commercial real estate owners, which now finance school districts in which the property is located, be "pooled" and used to fund school districts county-wide. "What's being recommended," Supervisor Murray said, "is that local government, through its ability to tax, join the federal and state governments in attempting to redistribute the wealth of our constituents. Nothing can be more wrong. Counties are in business to provide services and finance them fairly - not to play the role of Robin Hood when it comes to funding our schools."
- - -
"But I was thinking of a plan To dye one's whiskers green,
And always use so large a fan
That they could not be seen.
So, having no reply to give
To what the old man said,
I cried 'Come, tell me how you live!'
And thumped him on the head."
"Outrage." "Overtaxed." "Disingenuous." Words that come to all Nassau County taxpayers' minds when looking at their tax bills and listening to the sparingly disguised political attacks offered in lieu of a realistic plan to contain - if not lower - our oppressive property tax.
So much for "hope for the rest of us" when our heretofore warm and fuzzy Town Supervisor takes off the gloves, wildly throwing punches in the direction of County Assessor Levinson (though none hit their intended mark), lambasting his proposals, offering nothing in the way of a counterplan or viable alternative to a modest income tax IN PLACE OF the school portion of the property tax. [Supervisor Murray neglects to say in her tirade that the nominal income tax would be INSTEAD OF the existing school portion of the property tax, making it seem that the income tax would be in addition to the property tax. Talk about disingenuous!]
And to "attack" (in the words of the Town's own press release) Mr. Levinson's proposal to more equitably "share the wealth" by distributing the whole of Nassau County's commercial property taxes, as collected, to all school districts within the County, rather than to the few that have a viable commercial tax base, as a "Robin Hood" approach [as if we all don't pour our money into the likes of Roosevelt Field, getting no tangible benefit in returned tax revenues (save for those who reside in Uniondale and, to a lesser extent, Garden City) for our school districts] is beyond cavalier. It reeks of the old smoke and mirrors of days gone by; the "Gulottanomics" that blindsided us in the 80s and 90s, and nearly brought the County to its financial knees as we crawled our way into the 21st Century.
If Harvey Levinson has taken on the role of Robin Hood, then Kate Murray, hold up in the looking glass, masquerades as Alice In Wonderland, the Mad Hatter holding court on the sacred north shore.
The classic race between tortoise and hare, thinly veiled in Ms. Murray's "Blast" from the past, may have begun in earnest. The Mad Tea Party now ensues. But Tweedle Dumb and Tweedle Dumber we must be no more. For to have no plan, no vision, no talk of cabbages and kings (let alone of ships, of shoes, of sealing-wax), is to invite disaster to the Queen's banquet.
There is, we sense, a great frustration in Supervisor Murray's words. Anger. And no doubt, fear. For having stood at the edge of the rabbit hole, precariously perched and losing balance, there is, alas, no place to fall but down.
Perhaps Lewis Carroll put it better than we ever could -
`Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall:
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the King's horses and all the King's men
Couldn't put Humpty Dumpty in his place again...'
"Alice waited a minute to see if he would speak again, but, as he never opened his eyes or took any further notice of her, she said `Good-bye!' once more, and, getting no answer to this, she quietly walked away: but she couldn't help saying to herself, as she went, `of all the unsatisfactory --' (she repeated this aloud, as it was a great comfort to have such a long word to say) `of all the unsatisfactory people I ever met --' She never finished the sentence, for at this moment a heavy crash shook the forest from end to end."

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