Friday, May 01, 2009

Property Tax Reform?

No Signs Of Relief In This Legislative Session

A cap on school tax increases? A "circuit breaker" based on income? Any other measures that may reduce school, county, town, and special district property taxes?

If you're waiting for relief from Albany, don't hold your breath!

True to form, the various factions in the state capital would appear to be intent on bickering to the bitter end, with potential relief, if any, slated to die in committee.

Yes, there's a consensus that property taxes are too high, but apparently no such agreement as to what should be done about them.

So, be prepared to dig even deeper into your pants pockets when you pay your property tax. There is absolutely no sign of relief on the horizon. Would that we could tell you otherwise.
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Paterson, lawmakers stall on property tax relief


Fred Gorman of Nesconset and other taxpayer advocates stood behind Gov. David A. Paterson at a news conference last June to support his stance on tax relief.Paterson, a Democrat, had said earlier that month that he believed "fervently" in a 4 percent annual cap on increases in school property taxes. At the time, Gorman, a Republican, thought a cap had at least a slim chance of adoption.

But neither Paterson nor state lawmakers have taken action on a tax cap this year. And when Gorman read the news earlier this week that Paterson had once again talked up the merits of a cap, the Long Island businessman was unimpressed.

"The entire thing is a sham," he said.

As Long Islanders prepare to vote next month on more than $10 billion in proposed school spending, the state's political leaders, all Democrats, appear deadlocked on the idea of a tax cap.

Nor does any action seem imminent on most of the dozens of other recommendations issued in December by the state-appointed Commission on Property Tax Relief. The commission was chaired by Nassau County Executive Thomas Suozzi, also a Democrat.

Monday, Paterson did act on one commission recommendation: ordering state agencies to report on regulatory changes that might save costs for school districts and other local governments. The announcement came three days after the deadline for school boards to adopt next year's budget plans and is unlikely to have any impact on school spending in 2009-10.

The governor also has called for creation of a "Tier V" pension plan for new teachers and other public employees, which could potentially save billions of dollars through such changes as raising the minimum retirement age from 55 to 62. But state Sen. Diane Savino (D-Staten Island), chairman of the Senate's committee on civil service and pensions, has voiced opposition.

A spokesman for the governor, Errol Cockfield Jr., did not comment directly Wednesday on Gorman's criticism but insisted that his boss had been "a leader on the issue of property tax relief."

While Paterson still endorses a tax cap, other Democrats who control the State Legislature are leaning toward another form of tax relief known as a "circuit breaker." Under that approach, households earning up to $250,000 a year would get tax credits whenever school property taxes consume more than a certain portion of their incomes.

Supporters such as state Sen. Brian X. Foley (D-Blue Point) say a tax circuit breaker is politically realistic, unlike a tax cap that is opposed by the state's influential teachers union.

That organization, New York State United Teachers, opposes tax caps on grounds that it would cost jobs, erode local control of schools and widen the financial gap between affluent districts and those of modest wealth. The union is also one of the state's biggest political contributors, to both Republicans and Democrats.

Many financial experts conclude, however, that a circuit breaker would shift the burden from one group of taxpayers to another without clamping any controls on spending. The tax-relief commission itself urged that tax cap be adopted before lawmakers consider a circuit breaker."To deal with a circuit breaker in isolation won't encourage schools to contain costs," said Elizabeth Lynam, a commission adviser and deputy research director for the nonpartisan Citizens Budget Commission of Manhattan.

Albany bureau chief James T. Madore contributed to this story.

Copyright © 2009, Newsday Inc.
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BEWARE THE BOTTOM LINE ON SCHOOL BUDGETS: Its not the change in the budget that homeowners necessarily have to be concerned about. Rather, its the change in the tax levy from one year to the next.

The actual budget, in dollars and cents, may remain the same (or even decrease), but with dwinding sources of revenue and a decrease in State aid, the amount of money needed to be collected by school districts from homeowners to make that budget -- the so-called tax levy -- may actually go up.

Don't get sticker shock when your school property tax bill arrives.

Attend your school district's budget hearing. Scrutinize the school budget carefully. Look for the proposed change in the tax levy. Ask questions. Demand answers.

Be an informed consumer - - er, ah, taxpayer.

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