It’s hard to believe that another summer has come and gone. And as the air turns colder and the days get shorter, it’s a sure sign that municipal budget season is upon us. By now, localities have already begun the budget process for the 2014 fiscal year.
As I travel around the state, if there is one common concern among all of the individuals I speak to, whether I was in Albany, Buffalo or Long Island, it was that of property taxes. We know by now that New York State has some of the highest property tax rates in the nation. We know that these high tax rates drive businesses and families out of New York and create undue hardships for those who want to make New York and the Capital Region home. Perhaps the most vulnerable group to high property taxes are our seniors who are on fixed incomes. Each year, property taxes go up, but their incomes remain the same.
For years, elected officials have talked about easing the property tax burden. Most recently, the much lauded property tax cap was introduced in New York with the claim that now finally, residents would see real property tax relief. But as we have seen and as I have discussed in a previous blog, the property tax cap so called is not really a cap at all. Furthermore, the tax cap so called did nothing to address the root causes of high property tax, that being unfunded mandates passed down from New York State to county and local governments.
In Albany County, we have 9 such mandates as illustrated above. Taken together, these 9 mandates accounted for nearly 177 million dollars of our county budget. Remember, these are services that New York State mandate that the county provide but are given no financial method to do so. And as I stated when I would go door to door, if not for these unfunded mandates, the county could afford all of its services including the nursing home with minimal property tax.
Unfunded mandates are not the only reason for high property tax in New York. As i’m sure many of you well know, it’s not necessarily just your city or town tax that hits your the hardest but your local school district. In Cohoes, our school district budget is nearly twice the municipal budget.
One method of combating this is altering the way we fund our schools. One idea is to shift to a state income tax model. Meaning, instead of using the property tax, schools would be funded through the existing state income tax system. This certainly would level the playing field and provide a larger taxable population. Currently, Assemblyman Kevin Cahill of Ulster County has proposed such a law. It will be interesting to see if this idea or any other idea gains any traction on Capitol Hill.
But one thing is certain, we need to start taking the burden off of our property owners. Conceivably, if the pain is spread to a lager population, it would mean less pain for the individual taxpayer. As Benjamin Franklin famously said, “there is nothing in this world certain but death and taxes.” While that may be true, it does not mean we should perpetuate an unfair system.
Until real reform in enacted, those of us at the local level will continue to live up to our obligations, provide the necessary services and do so to the best of our ability without any undue burdens to our taxpayers.