Understanding the Tax Cap

A property tax cap. Sounds good, right? That’s how the folks in Albany wanted it to sound. But, sadly, the property tax cap “so called” is nothing more than a political ploy to shift the focus away from state law makers and make county and local elected officials the “bad guys” for raising taxes.

Now, come to find out, the 2% cap is actually even lower. This year, counties, towns and cities across New York State will be faced with a 1.66% property tax cap as opposed to the 2% cap because the tax cap adjusts to the consumer price index which is now below 2%.

Now, make no mistake about it, we in New York pay way too much in property taxes. If you took my house and moved it to South Carolina, I would be paying almost half the amount in property taxes I do now. But this property tax cap “so called” is no cap at all, just a ploy by those in Albany, passing their problems down to the counties and cities.

It’s estimated that New York counties will loose between 20-25 million dollars in revenue because of the adjusted “cap.” This is done while Albany continues to send down mandates to municipalities all the while saying to do more with even less. They are also sending down less state aid to municipalities. Politicians in Albany get to say they are fiscally responsible for enacting a tax cap while local elected leaders are faced with paving roads, running police and fire departments, providing safe, clean water and a whole host of vital municipal services that thousands of residents rely on daily.

There are several provisions in the law that allow municipalities to exceed the tax cap. 60% of a governing body must vote in favor to override. In school district budget votes, 60% of the voters must vote to override. There are also several items that are excluded from the cap, those being capital costs for school districts, pension contribution increases that exceed two percent and others. There are also many factors that can raise your property taxes even with the cap. If there is a decrease in assessed property in a given year, your taxes could increase. If there is a change in assessment, your taxes could increase. What you ultimately pay in property tax is determined by the value of your property and your municipalities tax rate.

In drafting the law, along with the exemptions, the state created a formula that is as complex as an IRS worksheet. It is an 8 step formula which determins a municipalites tax levy limit. So, essentially, your taxes could go up 3.38% but still remain under the 2% “cap.” Make sense? Only in New York would 2+2 not equal 4.

So at the end of the day, what are we left with? We are left with a cap that’s not a cap as stated by the Governor himself. We are left with municipal leaders at the local level trying to accommodate yet another unfunded mandate, all be it a political one, so they won’t be labeled as irresponsible tax raisers by state lawmakers. And we are still left with property tax payers paying way too much as towns, cities and counties attempt to keep the level of services that those tax payers rely upon daily.

As we approach municipal budget season, these issues will be hotly debated all across the county and state. It will take courage and leadership to make the right choices that benefit the common good of the people. And, yes, we must do this while making sure that there is no undue burden to the taxpayers.

But, sadly, the property tax cap was not a solution to any of the problems that face the property tax payer or the municipalities.


New York Failing its Seniors

nursing home grades

Families for Better Care, a Florida based nursing home resident advocacy group, has ranked New York State 45th in nursing home care, giving it an F, the only state on the east coast to receive a failing grade.

The state failed half of the measures and received only one above average grade. The lowest scores were in the areas related to direct care staff hours, professional nurse services and ombudsman complaints. Brian Lee, the Executive Director of families for Better Care says that our state “represents what is terribly wrong with nursing home care and oversight in America.” Lee also cites inadequate staffing as a major contributing factor of nursing home neglect.

The report also detailed a case in Oklahoma, another state that got an F, of an incident where a 96 year old nursing home resident was shown on hidden video to be physically and verbally abused. You can watch the horrifying video here http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=50152697n

My friends, I can’t begin to tell you how disappointed I am that we are doing such a disservice to our seniors in New York State. This is why I fight so hard to advocate for our seniors and to make sure they receive the best care we can provide for them. It’s also why I continue to support our Albany County Nursing Home, its residents and employees.

But I sense there is a larger issue at play here. I sense that perhaps we as a society do not place our seniors in the regard that we should. Years ago, when our parents and grandparents got older, they would move in with their children. Obviously, many of our seniors need round the clock care that can only be provided by professionals and in the age of two income households, moving in with your children would not work.

It would be almost impossible for a modern family to care for a loved one who needed round the clock care. This ties into the fact that while we are indeed living longer, we are not necessarily living healthier. Diseases such as Alzheimers were certainly not as common 60 years ago, when it was common practice for senior parents to move in with their children. That being said, it should still be our goal as a society to keep our seniors at home and with their families for as long as humanly possible. The decision to put our loved ones in a facility can be extremely difficult and very emotional because we love our families and want to keep them close.

So in light of these horrible findings, I will work even harder to advocate for our most vulnerable population. I will continue to do the best thing for them, not what is best for me politically or what is popular at the State Capitol.

And I hope that my friends in state government take a hard look at these findings and look at how our system in New York can be improved upon. We owe our seniors, we owe the greatest generation that much.

Detroit, who’s to blame?

The bankruptcy of a major American city is something that has many people shaking their heads in disbelief. How could a city like Detroit find itself in the position it’s in today? How could a once proud and significant city now be just the bud of late night jokes?

In the wake of the bankruptcy announcement, we have seen commentators on both sides of the political aisle blaming the public workers of Detroit, the firemen, teachers, and police officers. Fact is, Detroit’s pension benefits are modest compared to other cities.The average annual pension for retired Detroit police officers and firefighters is about $34,000, roughly half that of such pensions in Los Angeles and Chicago, 25% less than in Kansas City, Mo., and 36% below benefits for those in Dallas. Retirees from Detroit’s general city pension fund receive, on average, less than $20,000 a year.

detroit fire

We also see people blaming the United Auto Workers, saying they are nothing but greedy and lazy. Again, the truth is that the prevailing wage paid to new unionized autoworkers is less than that of the average laborer producing items ranging from metal and wood products to food and beverages.

Essentially, we see individuals placing blame on the middle class of the city. Placing the blame on the backs of hard working men and women who made Detroit their home, paid their taxes and have asked for nothing more in return then a fair wage, adequate health care and a decent retirement.

I find this totally absurd on many levels. Why would anyone blame the financial problems of Detroit on those who are making on average under 35 thousand dollars? Why are people blaming those fighting for a living wage?

First off, the cause of Detroit’s troubles are wide ranging and far reaching. You can start with a lack of political leadership that has plagued the city for decades. New York City almost went into bankruptcy during the mid 70s, but luckily, it had strong political leadership in the form of Governor Hugh Carey and Mayor Beam that saw the city through the storm.

Secondly, Detroit has fallen victim to the sins of the American auto industry. An industry that did not adapt fast enough to compete with Japanese and Korean auto makers during the 80s and 90s. Detroit was making cars nobody wanted which led to the near demise of the entire industry until President Obama bailed out General Motors a few years ago.

And sadly, corporate greed has also played its hand. Detroit, and many of our cities for that matter have suffered from the off shoring of American manufacturing jobs to others parts of the world. Evidence of this can be seen right here in New York in cities like Schenectady, Rochester and Buffalo. And just as the American manufacturing jobs were being off shored and plants in Detroit were being shuttered, the pockets of those on Wall Street and the CEO’s got bigger.
GM posts 15% jump in China deliveries

So, who’s to blame for Detroit? I think there is plenty of it to go around. But to place the blame on the backs of the middle class, those who built Detroit and made it what it was, to me, is not being genuine.

As always, I want to hear from you!