Friday, November 30, 2007

Property Tax Cut By 60 Percent?

It Could Happen Here! Well, Maybe. . .

The figures vary school district by school district, but everyone from the comptroller to the receiver of taxes to John & Jane Q. Public can tell you, upwards of 60 percent of Long Island homeowners' property tax bill goes to pay for local schools.

So, on a typical LI home with a full assessment of, say, $500,000, some $7200 of that $12,000 property tax bill accounts for school taxes.

Wouldn't be nice if we could make some of that school tax -- dare we say, all of it -- disappear?

"Dream on," you say?

Well, maybe so, but if a proposal bantered about by State Senator and Deputy Majority Leader Dean Skelos of Rockville Centre gains a foothold, it is possible that, over the next ten years (nothing in New York happens overnight), the school portion of our hefty property tax bills -- that's 60% or more -- could be eliminated.

Under what we will call the Skelos Plan, newly hired teachers would immediately become State employees, with the State of New York taking over salaries, pensions, and other contractual obligations.

"Teacher salaries, pension and health care costs represent about 70% of our local school district budgets," said Skelos.

"Each year, roughly 1 out of every 8 Long Island and Upstate teaching position is filled by a new teacher," according to the dean of the Long Island delegation. "By making each newly-hired teacher a state employee, the state will take over their salary and health insurance costs and make the school district’s contributions to the Teacher Retirement System. As a result, the state will assume nearly eight and a half percent of each school district’s budget each year. With 36,000 teachers in Nassau and Suffolk county school districts, this will eventually alleviate over $3 billion in local property taxes... Through this new approach, I believe that a $3,000 property tax cut is within our reach."

$3000? Okay, not quite half of that $7200 school property tax tab for our homeowner-by-example, but still, a nice chunk of change. And it sure beats the few hundred bucks Albany has dained to put back in our pockets via that ersatz "rebate," money that should never have been taken out of homeowners' wallets in the first place.

So even if we save 70 percent of that 60 percent of that property tax bill (are you still with us?), that's the equivalent of our $500,000 homeowner saving roughly $5000 per year.

A nice day's work, no?

Though teachers' unions may squawk -- and with them, the Assembly Speaker, Sheldon Silver -- the Skelos Plan is worthy not only of the "roundtable discussion" the Senator calls for, but most serious consideration by local school boards (who themselves have proven worthy advocates of both homeowners and our children), PTA and community groups, and, yes, every State Legislator (for whom 2008 is an election year, we might add).

Assuming (and you know what happens when you assume) the Skelos Plan has a chance at being more than fodder for the media -- and there hasn't been much of the talk since Senator Skelos outlined the Property Tax Relief and Excellence in Education Act back in September, we're afraid -- why not think of the proposal as Phase One in the total elimination of the school property tax?

Yes, we at The Community Alliance are calling for nothing short of funding, in the entirety, of every suburban school district's budget by the State. Period.

No more 8% or 16% or some other half-baked, almost magical formula for the redistribution of taxpayers' money. No more disparity in State Aid between upstate school districts and their Cinderella counterparts from Westchester County on down. No more unfunded mandates from Albany. And, best of all, no more school property tax!

Oh , you'll still have local control -- for whatever it may be worth -- over hiring, firing, and the like, and individual school districts will maintain their identities, but not their outlandish administrative and operating expenses.

The revenue stream would be constant. No more guesswork in how much aid will trickle down from up the river.

Ah, but how to pay for this shift of the school financing burden from the back of the homeowner to all taxpayers throughout New York?

That's the simple part.

Your STATE income tax dollars at work!

Today, roughly 25 cents of every dollar paid by Long Islanders in State income taxes actually comes back to Long Island. Increase that by, say, half, and you've already made up the difference, or come pretty darned close.

Need some extra money in the State budget for our children's education?

Show us a single session where our State Legislators haven't come up with the "extra" big bucks when they need it, either to bail out some agency or fund a pet project back home.

Just cut a portion of the pork, and you can be sure that there will be plenty of bacon for New York's schools.

Or maybe we simply eliminate a few of those so-called public authorities. You know. The last great bastions of political patronage and waste that have "bonded" New York in debt up to its ears. Out of the revenue stream of hundreds of such tax dollar-sucking authorities, we're certain that the higher authorities in the Senate and Assembly can draw sufficient funds to adequately and equitably finance New York's schools.

Then there's the lottery. More Video Lottery Terminals (VLTs), perhaps? Sure, its a gamble. But aren't our children worth a buck and a dream? Hey, you never know!

Dollars -- and sense -- tell us (and we're not economists, or even accountants, here), that the necessary funds would be (and probably are already) available out of current State revenues to fully finance New York's schools without the burdensome and regressive property tax. Why, an educated guess tells us that the powers-that-be wouldn't even have to raise the State income tax by a single cent, scare tactics by naysayers notwithstanding.

All we need to do, as State Senator Dean Skelos so aptly suggests, is to " think outside of the proverbial box and develop a plan that fundamentally reforms the status quo in a way that makes sense."

Now, coming from Albany, wouldn't that be refreshing?

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