Suggested "Circuit Breakers" Would Do Little To Curb Spending, Reduce Tax Bill
A proposal now being aired before the NYS Commission on Property Tax Relief -- and apparently gaining enthusiastic support among a broad audience -- would cap not the property tax itself, but rather, the amount taxpayers would have to pay based on their level of income.
Would this so-called "circuit breaker" reduce the property the property tax?
Would it force school districts to further tighten their belts and cut spending?
Would it change the way we finance public education in New York State?
All it would do is shift the property tax burden from one set of financially-strapped taxpayers to another, without doing anything to remedy the underlying problem.
We agree with Commission Chairman, Tom Suozzi, that "the state would be 'enhancing' inequities between wealthy and poor schools by not having a cap," but, by the same token, the state would be widening the gap between wealthy (and even the not so) taxpayers and the poor by capping property taxes for some, but not for others.
Indeed, a "circuit breaker" cap would break the back -- not to mention the bank -- of the already overassessed and unduly oppressed homeowner, whose tax bill has skyrocketed into the stratosphere in recent years, and, quite frankly, is in no position to take yet another hit by way of shifted burden. [Homeowners are already behind the eight ball, given the dramatic and inequitable shift of the property tax burden away from commercial properties, right into the laps of those who own residential properties.]
Cap, if you will -- not that this will solve the problem, but it appears the Commission is already primed to move in that direction -- but when you do, cap across the board, and across all income levels.
Then, find a way -- through elimination, consolidation, and/or fundamental changes to New York's out-of-whack school aid formulae -- to actually give homeowners what they want, what they need, and, after all these years of digging deep into their pockets, what they deserve -- a lower property tax bill.
Enough is enough, already!
- - -
Plan to cap school taxes based on income praised
BY JAMES T. MADORE
ALBANY - The idea of capping school-property taxes for moderate-income homeowners - but not for all taxpayers - appears to have gained momentum with the education establishment and members of a state commission studying how to lessen the tax burden.During the last of six public meetings, the Commission on Property Tax Relief yesterday heard multiple endorsements for a "circuit breaker" that would limit tax payments based on the ability to pay.
Relief would be steered toward moderate-income homeowners through tax credits instead of the current STAR rebate checks. The state probably would pick up the $1.5 billion or so in revenue lost by school districts.
Such a circuit breaker, which already exists in New York State in a more modest form, was lauded by the teachers union, school boards and superintendents - disparate groups that disagreed here on other issues before the commissioners.
"We should be looking more seriously at a circuit breaker which will help the people who need [tax relief] the most," said Robert Lowry Jr. of the state Council of School Superintendents. An across-the-board tax cap "would lock in existing disparities" between wealthy and poor school districts, and fail to address the soaring costs of employees' pensions and health care as well as gasoline for school buses, he said.
Alan B. Lubin, of the powerful New York State United Teachers, agreed, saying universal caps such as those in Massachusetts and California rob schools of resources needed to provide quality instruction. Capping property-tax hikes at three or four percent would have meant $27.5 million less for the Uniondale schools over the past four years and $15.2 million less for Westbury schools, he said.
"A circuit breaker protects taxpayers from a property-tax overload just like an electric circuit breaker by essentially capping an individual household's property taxes as a percentage of their income," he said. "Already 35 states have some form of circuit breaker."
However, business executives argued for a universal cap, saying it would force school districts to cut costs. The executives described the circuit breaker as a half-measure when the status quo needs to be blown up.
"A circuit breaker doesn't get to the core problem of controlling local spending ... it's not a solution," said Kenneth Pokalsky of the Business Council of New York State.
The seven-member commission, appointed by then-Gov. Eliot Spitzer and continued by successor David A. Paterson, is warming to the circuit breaker as opposed to a universal cap, according to people familiar with its deliberations who requested anonymity. At yesterday's hearing, commissioner Paul Tokasz, a lobbyist and former Democratic majority leader in the Assembly, repeatedly asked speakers about the circuit breaker.
But commission chairman Thomas Suozzi, the Nassau County executive, said the state would be "enhancing" inequities between wealthy and poor schools by not having a cap. He also said the commission would issue its report on May 22, a week later than originally proposed because educators feared a backlash in the annual school budget votes scheduled for May 20.
Suozzi praised Paterson for using his first veto to strike down a bill mandating the hiring of police chiefs in communities with 150,000 people or less. Suozzi said such regulations are another reason why property taxes keep rising. Spitzer vetoed a similar bill last year.
Copyright © 2008, Newsday Inc.