Thursday, January 10, 2008

Can "Good Faith" Lower Property Taxes?

Spitzer's State Of The State Offers Olive Branch, But "Day One" Changes Still Nowhere In Sight

Eliot Spitzer entered the Assembly chamber in Albany to polite applause, but the passion and promise of Day One that echoed in that historic chamber just a short year ago was somehow missing as the Governor delivered his second State of the State address.

On the agenda -- education, health care, the economy (particularly upstate), affordable housing, and, of course, property taxes.

In the latter's cause, the Governor called upon Nassau County Executive, Tom Suozzi, to chair a commission -- hopefully one with teeth -- to examine New York's property tax crisis, and to come up with workable solutions that actually keep more money in the taxpayers' pockets.

Another year, another study? Perhaps this time, there will be a just end to the formidable means.

Here's what Governor Spitzer had to say on the issue that has vexed Long Islanders, perhaps more than any other:

Experience has taught us that we need stronger medicine. A rebate check may temporarily ease the pain, but it doesn’t cure the disease. In the end, it’s a losing game for the taxpayer if the State gives you a rebate check on Monday and then on Tuesday your local government taxes it away.

So here’s what I propose – a bipartisan commission, invested with Moreland Act powers, that will return with three sets of recommendations. First, a package of reforms that gets at the root causes of what is driving taxes so high. This should include a look at unfunded mandates on both school districts and municipalities. Because school district property taxes account for about two-thirds of all property taxes, the commission must also identify ways to maintain our commitment to the highest quality education at a more affordable cost. Second, proposals on how to make our tax relief system fairer to the middle class taxpayer. And third, a proposal for a fair and effective cap – to hold the line on sky-high school district property taxes once and for all.

I have asked Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi to lead this commission. Tom, you have championed this cause for many years, now let us work together to solve it.

Our goal should be proposals that enable responsible districts to stay within the cap and promote the most effective investments in educational quality, constrain districts that would go beyond responsible spending, and ensure that state tax relief is directed to the taxpayers who need it most.

A tax cap is a blunt instrument, but it forces hard choices and discipline when nothing else works. When combined with real reform of unfunded mandates and a blueprint for providing a high quality education at a more affordable cost, a cap will allow us to invest wisely in our schools while achieving the goal of controlling property taxes. Let’s finally get real about property taxes. That is what our taxpayers demand, and that is what we must deliver.

Tom Suozzi set out, years ago, to fix Albany. This work in progress continues.

Now comes an even taller order, to literally fix what's broken in New York -- the way in which we fund public education and provide for local services. For the sake of every one of us, Tom Suozzi must succeed.

Commenting on the Governor's message, the Deputy Majority Leader of the NYS Senate, Dean Skelos, remarked, "I'm still waiting for Day 1 for Long Islanders who are struggling with high property taxes... We need to provide more tax relief in the 2008-09 budget, not just form a group to study it."

We agree with the Senator from Rockville Centre. We're all still waiting, and we need more relief -- and more of an effort -- not just from study groups or commissions, but from the folks who actually have the capacity to move the agenda forward, the members of the New York State Legislature.

You can't fix Albany, reign in property taxes, bolster the status of the State University, provide affordable housing, or rebuild the economy of upstate New York unless the Governor and the Legislature lay aside the petty bickering and the partisan politics in favor of the people's business.

Day One delayed has been, for all intents and purposes, prosperity denied.

The time to move New York forward, and to tackle the tough issues that, until today, have confounded the elected and the electorate alike, is now.

"Join me in good faith," concluded the Governor. "I will meet you with an open hand, an open door, and an open mind. For we will realize this opportunity best if we work together in a spirit of cooperation.

"That is the journey to which we rededicate ourselves. It is a journey I look forward to our making, together."

Well, if nothing else, at least we can look forward to the Legislature renaming the Triborough Bridge in honor of the late Senator Robert F. Kennedy. Maybe...

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