Thursday, January 26, 2006

It Really Is The Property Tax. DUH!

New Study Finds Property Tax Most Onerous; LIers Favor Income Tax To Replace School District Property Tax

Why do we pay millions of dollars to ask questions we already know the answers to? Who knows? Let's get a grant, do a study, take a survey, and find out!

Anyway, the latest survey conducted by the Rauch Foundation in Garden City concludes that a majority of Long Islanders "support alternative funding schemes for public schools including an income tax and redistributing business tax revenues equally among districts..." [SEE Newsday's At The Tipping Point On Taxes.]

Cringing at the use of the word "schemes" in the same sentence as "public schools," and leaving aside that this "majority" evidently does not reside in Hempstead Town (where they apparently "enjoy" paying excruciatingly high property taxes), we can at least say this: "Harvey Levinson, you've been vindicated!"

According to the survey, 55% of Long Islanders favored reducing the property tax by two-thirds and instituting an income tax.

"The steady unyielding property taxes every year are unfair because there is no adjustment in terms of your life circumstance, your ability to pay," Patrick McGivney, a New York City firefighter who lives in Miller Place with his wife and three preschoolers, told Newsday. "I'm absolutely for an income tax."

As reported in Newsday, "Long Island has a whopping 901 governmental entities (including Special Districts). Together, they spent $15.9 billion in 2003, the most recent available data, with school expenditures representing almost one-half. Schools also were responsible for the largest increases in spending during the past five years. They receive the lion's share of their funding from property taxes, which have risen to an average of $7,477 from $6,858 in 2001."

With school district levies constituting nearly 60% of the property tax burden, and the market value of Long Island's housing stock in the stratosphere, is it any wonder that, given some thought, most Long Islanders would like to scrap the property tax (based on the market value of one's house) in favor of a more equitable income tax (based on one's ability to pay)?

This seemed like a no-brainer to us -- the convoluted dissonance of income tax detractors aside -- and it still does.

When polled by Newsday on the question of what reason (if any) has prompted residents to consider moving away from Long Island, the responses were as follows:

34.1% - The housing prices are too high (1634 responses)
54.3% - Property taxes are too high (2605 responses)
0.8% - I'm unsatisfied with local services such as sanitation (36 responses)
1.9% - Too much crime (91 responses)
1.1% - Weak school system (54 responses)
7.9% - I would never leave Long Island (378 responses)
4798 total responses

The numbers, of course, are most telling. Add to this the nebulous "quality of life" concerns so difficult to put a finger on, and the general dissatisfaction of residents with life on our Long Island must be said (survey or no survey) to be markedly greater than even these poll numbers demonstrate.

Replacing the regressive property tax with a progressive income tax, a measure advocated by The Community Alliance, is not a new idea, as Newsday reported in New Proposal Resurrects Old Idea. Mario Cuomo, then New York's Governor, suggested it over a decade ago. Harvey Levinson, Chairman of Nassau County's Board of Assessors, gave new life to considering a local income tax last year (despite the obvious political pitfalls), and continues to champion its cause. Now, Long Islanders themselves have voiced their opinion on replacing the school property tax with an income tax, giving their nod of approval. Perhaps this is an idea whose time has finally come!

In 2006, every seat in the New York State Legislature will be up for grabs. Could this be the year that our legislators finally address the taxing issues that weigh so heavily upon Long Islander's minds as well as their wallets? Let us hope so!
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Click HERE to read At The Breaking Point? Taxation And Governance On Long Island.
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Click HERE to read the New York Times article, Property Taxes Push Residents To Their Limit.
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