Say Aid To Education And Property Tax Relief Plans Shortchange Nassau And Suffolk
It may not be often that we agree with Long Island's Republican delegation to the New York State Senate (gee, do you think newly-elected State Senator, Craig Johnson, has anyone to carpool with?), but on matters such as property tax relief and State Aid to Long Island's school districts -- both issues of great concern to LIers -- we have to say that the Governor's budget proposals are, to say the least, troubling.
Of course, we continue to disagree with the delegation's contention that the STAR program saved Long Island homeowners over $700 million last year, and that a "play it again, Sam" vis-a-vis those property tax "Rebate" checks is a good thing.
While the Spitzer proposals may be flawed, clearly, the GOP Senators from Long Island have not articulated (can we still say that?) anything other than what amounts to staying the course -- a course which screams, "Iceberg, dead ahead" for Long Island homeowners.
The solution does not lie, as most of us have understood for a long, long time, either in enhancing STAR or in issuing rebates. Rather, a complete revamp of the property tax structure, as well as how we finance our education system, is in order.
Throwing money at a problem is rarely the answer. [Of course, we'll take as much as we can get our hands on here on Long Island.] Throwing good money after bad -- as in picking one pocket to put pork in the other -- only makes matters worse.
At least Governor Spitzer recognizes that property taxes and school aid are two issues that not only have to be addressed this year, but that the two are not mutually exclusive. At least he is willing to take the first steps in evaluating the situation, which debate -- via think tank and public expression -- will, hopefully, lead to viable, practical solutions.
The Republicans in the State Senate -- and their Democratic counterparts in the equally static Assembly -- have had how many years to come up with a plan to equalize aid to school districts and offer homeowners real property tax relief? Ten? Fifteen? Twenty? We've lost count, already.
From the looks of it, its more STAR, more rebates, more attempts to fix that broken wheel on an over-burdened wagon. The old Band-Aid approach.
We have some fresh faces in Albany -- one of them in the Governor's mansion.
Now all we need are some fresh ideas on how to deal with some very sticky -- and extremely costly -- age-old problems.
- - -
LONG ISLAND SENATE DELEGATION: GOVERNOR SPITZER'S BUDGET BAD FOR NASSAU AND SUFFOLK PROPERTY TAXPAYERS
Long Island’s State Senate Delegation today (February 3) held a press conference with a Mineola family to discuss the negative impact of Governor Spitzer’s Executive Budget on local property taxpayers. The Governor’s proposed budget shortchanges Long Island schools by $68 million and raises property taxes for hundreds of thousands of Nassau and Suffolk County homeowners.
Last year, Long Island homeowners saved over $700 million through the School Property Tax Relief ("STAR") program and received $210 million in school tax rebate checks from the state. The Governor’s Executive Budget eliminates the rebate check program that benefited every homeowner and excludes families with household incomes of $80,001, or more, from fully benefiting from his property tax relief plan.
Currently, Long Island’s median household income exceeds this unfair threshold and the Governor’s plan will raise property taxes for nearly 200,000 homeowners in Nassau and Suffolk counties. In comparison, the Long Island Senate Delegation’s plan provides two and half times the new property tax relief included in the Governor’s budget proposal ($2 billion vs. $800 million), quadruples the state rebate checks and helps every homeowner.
In addition, the Governor’s Executive Budget reduces the share of total state school aid received by schools in Nassau and Suffolk counties. Traditionally, Long Island’s schools have received 13% of all state school aid. The Governor’s proposed budget reduces Long Island’s share of new state aid to 8%. As compared to the amount they would have received under their traditional 13% share, the Executive Budget shortchanges Nassau and Suffolk school districts by $68 million. Through the Governor’s proposed budget, the Mineola School District would experience a 1.04% reduction in total state aid from last year’s State Budget.In comparison, the Executive Budget raises New York City’s share of new state school aid from 38% to 46%. Because of this shift from Long Island to New York City, school districts in Nassau and Suffolk counties will receive an average state aid increase of 5%, while New York City’s schools will receive nearly 10% more state aid than last year.
Senator Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) said, "The Governor’s budget is simply a bad deal for Long Island. It steals $68 million dollars from our schools and it raises property taxes for hundreds of thousands of Long Island homeowners. Long Islanders need property tax relief and the Governor has delivered nothing but empty promises. Our delegation will stand up for Long Island taxpayers and fight for the school aid property tax relief we deserve."
Senator Owen Johnson (R-West Babylon) said, "The Governor’s plan leaves too many middle-class Long Island families out in the cold with little or no meaningful property tax relief. The Senate’s property tax relief plan would quadruple the STAR property tax rebate checks for every homeowner. I will work to ensure that Long Island homeowners get the property tax relief they deserve."
Senator Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) said, "The Governor’s school aid proposal focuses heavily on urban areas and does not adequately address the needs of suburban and rural communities. Under his school aid plan, the $1.4 billion increase in state aid is not distributed equitably and falls far short of what Long Island needs to provide a quality education at a price that taxpayers can afford."
Senator Caesar Trunzo (R-Brentwood) said, "My number one priority will be to continue providing property tax relief to Long Island's hard working families and senior citizens. The Senate has proposed over $2 billion in new property tax relief initiatives and my colleagues and I in the Long Island Senate Delegation will fight to reduce the high cost of living in the communities we represent."
Senator Kemp Hannon (R-Garden City) said, "The Governor’s school aid plan deprives Long Island’s hardworking taxpayers and their children of $68 million they deserve. Stripping away the rebate checks and giving Long Island’s share of the taxpayer’s money over to New York City’s schools is not just. Our property tax plan saves more money for more people than the Governor’s proposal."
Senator Carl Marcellino (R-Syosset) said, "We are at a crossroads. We simply cannot continue to foot the bill for the rest of the state. Enough is enough. Either we join together and stand up for our cities, towns and villages from Montauk to Valley Stream or watch as the Governor’s proposed state budget erodes our quality of life. My mind is made up. I'm fighting for Long Island."Senator Charles J. Fuschillo, Jr. (R-Merrick) said, "My number one priority remains delivering property tax relief to Long Islanders. We have proposed a plan that would put hundreds of dollars in tax savings into the hands of Long Island families by quadrupling the size of last year’s rebate program. This enhanced rebate would be addition to their STAR program savings. The Governor’s proposed budget has eliminated the much needed property tax rebate plan and cut Long Island's educational aid share to 8% of his proposed educational aid funding for the state. These cuts are unacceptable and we will continue to fight to ensure that Long Island residents receive the property tax relief they deserve."
Senator John Flanagan (R-East Northport) said, "The days of pitting the so-called rich Long Island homeowners against the rest of the state are over and this administration must work with us to provide a budget that respects that fact. The quality of Long Island education is high because our parents support their schools and they should not be asked to shoulder any more of the burden. By submitting a plan that reduces many Long Islanders’ access to much needed tax relief and provides the bare minimum to our students, Governor Spitzer is taking a poor first-step in this process and it is one that we will not accept."
- - -
The Democratic Response -- Well, Sort Of
We really don't see any answers in here, either, do you?
Senate Democrats Target Tax Relief to Those Who Need it Most Amendments would first help struggling seniors and working families
Senate Democrats unveiled two amendments to the Republican property tax rebate plan (S.1-A) scheduled to be debated and voted on today. The amendments would better target tax relief to those who need it most – primarily senior citizens and middle class working families who have been hit hardest by skyrocketing property taxes.
Both the Governor and Senate have proposed cutting property taxes by about $6 billion in an effort to reduce the overall tax burden in New York State – which is the highest in the nation.
"We have had a property tax crisis in New York State for far too long," said Senate Democratic Leader Malcolm A. Smith (D-Queens). "But under the leadership of Governor Eliot Spitzer, and with the support of this Senate Democratic Conference, we will soon see real reform of our property tax system that will bring significant and long term tax relief to our State."
The proposals we've seen are good starting points," Smith said. "Our amendments will strengthen the Senate plan and help make our property tax system more equitable while also targeting immediate relief directly to seniors and middle class New Yorkers who need help now."
Senator William Stachowski (D-Buffalo), ranking Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, said Senate Democrats are seeking long-term solutions to the State's tax crisis. "The STAR program is a good one,but, in its present form, it does not take a homeowner's income and regional economic differences into consideration. The more we rely on STAR without addressing the structural inequities in our property tax system, the more we exaggerate those inequities."
State Senators Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers) and David Valesky (D-Oneida) will offer amendments, which, if enacted, would address at least some of the inequities in the State's property tax system.
Valesky's amendment to expand the Real Property Tax Credit for seniors is designed to overcome the regressive nature of property taxes by increasing the maximum credit amount for senior citizens from $375 to $1,125, and increasing the maximum credit amount for all others from $75 to $225.
The current Real Property Tax Credit limits have been ineffective in New York because they operate at a modest level and because the amounts of the credit have not been increased in 30 years. The Democratic proposal would greatly expand the program for seniors.
Valesky said, "Low and Middle income New Yorkers, particularly senior citizens living on fixed incomes, have been overwhelmed by skyrocketing Medicaid costs and other unfunded mandates that have lead to double-digit local property tax hikes."
Valesky said his amendment "would target additional relief to the people who have borne the brunt of the growing property tax burden over the last decade, in this case, New York's senior citizens."
Stewart-Cousins will offer an amendment to expand the personal income tax credit, currently allowed only to New York City renters, to the entire state. This would provide immediate tax relief to renters in suburban areas like Westchester County and Long Island, where property tax hikes have dramatically driven up rental costs.
Last year, the State increased the STAR credit for renters living in New York City, raising the refundable credit from $125 to $230 for married couples and $62.50 to $115 for all others. Stewart-Cousins said, "It is only fair that all tenants in our State receive the same Personal Income Tax credit provided to New York City renters. Many of our suburban communities are among the highest taxed in the nation, and this amendment would bring immediate relief to the tenants in those communities."
Stachowski said the Senate Democrats have discussed a number of other tax relief strategies, including "shortening the phase-in period for seniors and working families who most need immediate relief.
"We intend to be fully engaged in tax relief negotiations with the Governor and our colleagues in the Senate and Assembly, and we will bring a number of proposals to the table. We believe, as does the Governor, that a tax relief plan must promote equity and fiscal responsibility and must address the root causes of high property taxes – economic decline, irresponsible government spending, waste and debt," Stachowski said.
- - -
State Senator Craig Johnson has yet to check in on these issues of grand import to Long Islanders. If and when he does, we'll be sure to let you know.