Thursday, November 29, 2007

Different Figures, Same Conclusion: School Property Taxes Are Too High!

Is The World Sirois?

From the Levittown Tribune:

Taxes Outpace Inflation?

On Wednesday, Nov. 7, the New York State Comptroller's office claimed that school taxes in the state have outpaced inflation two-fold, thereby promoting the myth that school taxes are irresponsibly exorbitant. The reporting omitted important information that does not support - and, in fact, negates - the myth of excessive school taxation.

To begin with, any comparison of increases in school taxes to the general rate of inflation is invalid and inflammatory, because school districts, as well as other governmental units, do not purchase many of the things, such as private homes, that have suppressed the rate of inflation during recent years. A more valid frame of reference would be those increases experienced by other governmental units, including the State of New York itself.

The fact is, that increases in school expenditures and taxes pale in comparison to recent increases in both expenditures and tax receipts of New York State. For example, the average increase in school taxes for the 2007 year, as reported by the Comptroller, was 5.9 percent compared to a 9.4 percent increase in total taxes collected by New York State during the same period. During this period a similar pattern existed relative to expenditures, wherein, school expenditures increased about 5 percent as compared to an increase in total expenditures on the part of New York State of 6.9 percent. The bottom line is that New York State has posted expenditure and tax increases at considerably higher rates than that of schools throughout the state. When compared to the State of New York, increases in expenses (3.93 percent) and taxes (3.96 percent) in the Levittown School District are exceptionally responsible and efficient.

State and county politicians are fond of making the claim that 60 percent of our taxes go to school districts. When challenged on this statistic, they readily concede that the 60 percent figure includes only property taxes, and does not include all of the other taxes (e.g., income and sales taxes) that we pay to the state and/or counties, but not to our school districts. When everything is considered, school taxes account for about 40 percent, not 60 percent, of all local and state taxes paid by the average citizen in the state.

The omission of information that would enable valid comparisons and evaluations of school taxes is disingenuous at best, and is a strategy that should be abandoned by our state and county politicians, and one that should not be abetted by the popular media.

I am not suggesting, here, that the increases in taxes and/or expenditures on the part of New York State have been irresponsible. What I am suggesting is a) that the myth of school taxation is, in fact, just that, a myth; and, b) that, in comparison with New York State, our school districts have been paragons of responsibility and efficiency.

Herman A. Sirois, PhD
Superintendent, Levittown Public Schools
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And if we take federal taxes paid – with expenditures under No Child Left Alive (we mean Behind) – into account, our total tax burden for education is less than 20%.

Fact is, prudence of local school boards and the burden of unfunded mandates and contractual obligations aside, the school portion of the property tax is 60+ percent of the property tax bill here on Long Island.

If, as Dr. Sirois contends, the school tax burden borne by Long Islanders is a “myth,” then surely, we are all living a dream -- or is it nightmare? -- in the fantasyland of educational finance.

Our local school districts, with a few exceptions, may well be responsible and efficient, with annual increases in school tax levies both reasonable and prudent, particularly in light of the increase in expenditures over which school boards and administrations have little or no control, coupled with diminishing returns from Albany.

The way we finance education in New York State, unfortunately, is neither responsible nor efficient, and whether the “true” figure is 60% of our tax bill, 40%, or something else, conconcted, extrapolated, or otherwise, the tax burden for the average LI homeowner is both untenable and unacceptable.

Unfunded mandates, the “upstate”/”downstate” disparity, and the paucity of our income tax dollars coming back to Long Island from Albany (perhaps 25 cents on the dollar, if we're lucky), among other inequities, underscore the sad reality that funding education through a regressive property tax shortchanges not only the taxpaying property owner, but our children as well.

It is high time we begin to think – and act – outside of that property tax box!

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