Friday, September 26, 2008

Albany Giveth, And Albany Taketh Away

Property Tax Rebate Checks To Be Offset By Decrease In STAR Payments To School Districts

There they go again!

Putting money in one pocket (the annual, pre-election STAR Rebate check, your reminder to vote on November 4), while picking the other pocket (by a decrease in the STAR exemption, which Albany lawmakers won't tell you about) at the same time.

Yes, the sleight of hand, played with our tax dollars, impacting where? On YOUR wallet, of course.

Those STAR Rebate checks -- to be sent automatically this year -- will begin to show up in homeowners' mailboxes in October.

Rebates will range from $0, for those with 2006 combined incomes of $250,000 or more, to $799.85, for those qualified for Enhanced STAR.

Click HERE to determine the amount of your rebate check, and the expected mailing date.

The decrease in the STAR Exemption, as enacted by our State Legislature and signed into law by the Governor, will cost the "average" homeowner somewhere in the neighborhood of $320. [Will the "average" homeowner on Long Island please raise his hand?]

Net-Net, Long Island homeowners may well see a wash as they STAR-gaze at that Rebate check. Best case scenario -- chump change in your pocket (use it to help pay for the Wall Street bailout); worst case -- an out-of-pocket loss of, perhaps, of hundreds of dollars, all added on to your property tax bill. [The one they hope you'll never notice.]

Okay, so Albany faces the same fiscal crunch the feds -- and the rest of us -- must contend with. Money -- and credit -- are tight. Deficits are on the rise. Shortfalls must be made up for.

We all understand that.

So, why not cancel, or temporarily postpone the STAR Rebates. At the very least, tell the taxpayer about the reduction in the STAR payments to school districts (a reduction which the homeowner will be held liable for in a corresponding increase in, yes, the dreaded school property tax).

What? You can't do that in an election year?

Oh. Sorry. We forgot, for a moment there, just how easy it has been to spend our money, and how difficult it is to tell the taxpayers the cold, hard truth!
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From Newsday:

Don't cash your STAR rebate, assessor says

Long Island homeowners might want to bank those STAR rebate checks that are due from the state next month.

That way, they could use the money to make up for upcoming losses in their STAR tax exemptions.

In what some local government officials regard as political sleight-of-hand, Albany is preparing to send out annual tax-rebate checks ranging from $240 to $555, while reducing another form of tax assistance to most school districts. Both forms are part of the state's annual program of STAR school-tax relief.

The other type of STAR payments -- those going directly to school districts -- are due to drop this year in most localities, state authorities say. Nassau County officials say this will drive up homeowners' tax bills there by as much as $320.

Yesterday, County Assessor Harvey Levinson blasted Albany's two-handed approach as "wasteful and self-aggrandizing." Levinson also implied that the state's approach was sneaky -- an accusation denied by aides to Gov. David A. Paterson and state legislative leaders.

"I can understand why state lawmakers opted not to inform homeowners (in their many taxpayer-funded mailings) that they were responsible for increasing this year's school property tax burden," Levinson declared in a statement issued yesterday.

Levinson, a Democrat who is retiring next month, also contends that the state could save localities millions of dollars in paperwork if it folded the money now allocated for rebate checks into the payments going to school districts.

Rebate checks are mailed out under the state's imprint just before November's elections. In contrast, STAR payments to school districts are far more difficult for homeowners to track, because such payments are reflected only indirectly in the tax bills issued by counties and towns.

Nassau's tax bills go out early next month. In Suffolk County, where bills go out in December, some town officials in charge of assessments also expect the drop in STAR payments to negatively affect taxpayers.

However, these authorities expect effects to be slight, and some question Levinson's emphasis on the issue.

"The average loss here would only be about $5 -- you'd never notice it," said one Huntington official who asked not to be named.

In Albany, state government leaders describe their curbs on STAR payments to school districts as an effort to balance an increasingly precarious budget.

Last spring, Paterson, a Democrat, and legislative leaders from both parties agreed that STAR payments to school districts could drop by as much as 10 percent, compared to payments made the year before. That would save the state an estimated $110 million, according to the governor's budget office.

At the time, the agreement on reduced STAR payments was not mentioned in a news release issued by the governor's office. Paterson aides note, however, that the reductions were mentioned in a 130-page executive budget booklet.

Scott Reif, a spokesman for the State Senate's Republican majority, said leaders on that side initially opposed STAR reductions, but reluctantly agreed as part of an overall compromise that included a $1.75-billion boost in state aid for school operations.

"It was a difficult decision that was made in the context of balancing the budget," Reif added.

Copyright © 2008, Newsday Inc.

NYS Attorney General To Host Freeport Forum October 7th

Andrew Cuomo Invites LIers To Join -- And Watch -- The Debate

Dear Friends:

The Office of the Attorney General is coming to the Nassau County! I write to invite you to join me and my senior staff at a community forum on Tuesday October 7th at 7:00 pm at the Caroline G. Atkinson School at 58 W. Seaman Ave. in Freeport.

We are hosting this meeting to discuss issues of concern to the residents of Nassau County. The forum will focus on priority issues such as environmental protection, health care, consumer protection, civil rights, workers rights, internet safety, and student loans.

I look forward to discussing these topics, but most importantly I am looking forward to hearing directly from you. In addition, we encourage you to stay around to watch the presidential debate at 9:00pm which we will be showing on site.

We need your help to ensure this forum’s success. We hope you will circulate word of this forum and encourage your friends, family and anyone else you know who may be interested to attend.

Please also visit our website at to learn more about the Office of the Attorney General. We very much look forward to meeting you atthis important community forum. Light refreshments will be served.

Please RSVP to our Nassau County Regional Office at 516-248-3316. Ifyou have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact our NassauCounty Regional office at (516) 248-3300.

New York State Attorney General

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Read Tom's Lips: Higher Property Taxes

County Exec Seeks 3.9% Hike

Nassau County ranks third in the nation in property tax burden, right behind number one Westchester County and number two Hunterdon County (NJ).

As the financial markets crumble and economic woes beset nearly every one of us on Long Island, Nassau County is trying harder to catch the pack and take the lead.

County Executive, Tom Suozzi, recently called for a 3.9% increase in the property tax – the first increase in 5 years. The price tag per Nassau County household? Roughly, $65.

At first blush, the thought of even a small increase, coming from the lips of the guy who set out to cut property taxes – the thorn in the side of county homeowners – would seem unconscionable.

The Chair of the NYS Commission on Property Tax Relief proposing a property tax increase? What is he thinking? What were we?

Of course, Mr. Suozzi is within the 4% cap (and we have not abandoned our position, mind you, that a tax cap is not a tax cut, by any means) his Commission proposed for school property taxes, so fair is fair, we suppose. Still, can Nassau County homeowners afford any increase in their already hefty tax burden?

The real question is, with declining revenues from other sources – particularly the dwindling sales tax receipts – can Nassau County afford not to raise property taxes.

Fact is, core services must be maintained, as must at least the aura of suburbia, as we have come to know it, lest Nassau County slip into the great abyss of economic depression ala NYC in the depths of the fiscal crisis of the 70s, where neglect of everything from infrastructure to community policing was the order of the day.

True, the argument can be made – and we have made it here, many times – that there is evidence of neglect in the way Nassau County does business in its regular course, evidence the decline in park upkeep and road maintenance, but make no mistake, without maintaining the core services by means of a modest tax increase in these tenuous economic times, a meltdown of the very attributes that make Nassau County so attractive to its inhabitants, from the provision of essential services to maintaining the bond rating that keeps Nassau afloat in the marketplace, are at risk, raising the potential for a financial quandary that would make the darkest days of the Gulotta administration look like fireworks over the East River on the Forth of July.

Michael Bloomberg, Mayor of our neighbor to the west, the City of New York, and a fiscal conservative under whose stewardship the city has flourished, has recently bantered about the prospect of a 7% property tax increase for city homeowners, warning that such increases may be necessary to close enormous deficits.

“I said we will look at all the different possibilities, but I think the solution is a combination of expense reduction, which nobody is going to be happy about, and revenue enhancements, which nobody is going to be happy about,” Bloomberg told The New York Times. “This is not going to be a feel-good time.”

Similarly, Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi, in proposing a number of significant budget cuts to complement, if not offset, the hike in property taxes, had this to say:

"Despite the worst national economic times in over a decade we kept the tax increase below 4%. We did this while maintaining our commitment to fiscal integrity by keeping our headcount low, by negotiating tough, but fair contracts with our public employee unions, by reducing our debt service and implementing smart government initiatives as we have each year of my administration."

Without doubt, when the proposed 2009 budget comes before the politically divided and essentially inept Nassau County Legislature, there will be the usual wrangling, finger-pointing, and posturing for which this gang has become infamous.

So, too, will this property tax increase become campaign fodder when the County Exec seat is up for grabs next year, despite the obvious shortfalls and economic realities beyond the control of even the most fiscally prudent CEO.

No, there is no room, and this is no time, for the partisan bickering that has, in the past, mired our county in a dysfunctional stupor. There is no Democratic or Republican way to either pick up garbage (except in the town’s Special Districts, where all yokels are political), or to set the county’s fiscal house in order, and no painless way to keep the county solvent while continuing to give moment to the great suburban dream.

There will be cuts, consolidations, give-backs, and, yes, more property taxes to pay. Why, they may even have to unplug those high-def flat screen TVs installed in the offices of our County Legislators at the newly restored courthouse. Ouch.

As Mike Bloomberg opined, “This is not going to be a feel-good time.”

No, it is not.

Still, with stringent belt-tightening, fiscally responsible governing, and, yes, a property tax hike that amounts to, more or less, a tank of gas per household, hard times will, in due course, lead to better times for all of us.
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Friday, September 19, 2008

The Case Against Government Efficiency

Don’t do it better. Do it bigger.

That seems to be the credo of The Association of Towns of the State of New York – the folks who obviously revel in the mockery of “local control” as somehow giving power to the people.

Okay, so those “people” are the ones who are in power at your local town hall – the folks who dole out the patronage jobs along with the SUVs, 52-inch HDTVs, lifetime health and medical benefits (even for the dearly departed) to the commissioners at the Sanitary Districts and their families – but hey, its great work, if you can get it.

But we digress.

Seems that The Association of Towns of the State of New York commissioned a study – prepared by Wendell Cox (any relation to Wally?) – which concludes that local control creates efficiency, saves the taxpayer big bucks, and keeps control of everything from water delivery to garbage collection where it belongs – local (as, in the hands of those who, for the last hundred years, or so, have maintained that stranglehold on your wallet by charging you more for trash collection than you pay for police protection).

Yes, as local as local taxation gets!

In Government Efficiency, The Case for Local Control, Wendell Cox opines, among other points of dubious contention, that “claims that local government consolidation would improve New York’s competitiveness are not supported by the experience.”

Of course not. We’ve rarely, if ever, experienced government consolidation in New York State, let alone in America’s largest township, where the tentacles of government are ever-expanding, reaching those treasured greenbacks wherever you may try to hide them.

The problem with The Association of Towns making the argument against consolidation is that it is as specious as it is self-serving. Kind of like the tobacco industry, having commissioned an “independent study” (conducted by the CEO of R.J. Reynolds), concluding not only that cigarette smoking is good for you, but, more than this, that nicotine prevents cancer, and may even be the long-sought after cure.

The Cox Report (and this is not meant as a sexist retort, mind you) concludes with a finding that may well prove true, assuming we ever get to that point – “New York’s system of smaller local governments are principal competitive assets.”

That’s smaller local government, right? Smaller, as in less of it? Smaller, as in less intrusive, fewer special districts, lower property taxes?

Hmmm. If you believe that, here in New York, we have smaller local government, or, even in some oblique sense, are headed in the direction of efficient local government, well then, hold on to your wallets, my friends, ‘cause we’ve got a bridge to nowhere to sell you.