State diverts tire tax money. Time to abolish it?

Whether you call it a tax, a fee or a surcharge, New York State collects $2.50 for the purchase of every tire sold in the state. It's the price you pay for the Waste Tire Management Fee which was imposed in 2003 to fund the clean up large tire dumps. But a CNY Central investigation has found that the majority of the fee now pays for salaries and state expenses that may have little to do with the disposal of used tires.

11 years ago, New York State had a huge problem with number of large tire dumps. The worst was at the Fortino property in Oswego County where more than 10 million used tires posed a toxic fire hazard and endangered health and the environment. Through the Waste Tire Management Fee, the state spent $115 million to clean up the Fortino property and the large tire dumps so that mostly small tire dumps remain.

The tire tax was supposed to expire in 2010, but has been extended twice. According to the State Department of Environmental Conservation, the tire fee continues to raise up to $26 million annually, but only a fraction of the money goes to the actual cleanup of tire dumps.

The DEC provided CNY Central with a rough breakdown of how the money is spent:

--$6 million goes to the state's general fund where it can be used for any purpose

--$14 million pays the salaries of employees in the DEC's Hazardous Waste Division

--$6 million is for waste tire abatement projects

So once a tax, always a tax? CNY Central's Jim Kenyon asked Govenor Andrew Cuomo during a recent visit to Solvay, if it was time to do away with the tire tax. Cuomo replied, "We will be reviewing that tax through this legislative session. Obviously there are differing opinions on the tax , but it's one of the taxes on the table to look at."

On January 29, State Senator John DeFrancisco who chairs the Senate Finance Committee asked DEC Commissioner Joseph Martens for an accounting of the money collected through the Waste Tire Management Fee. DeFrancisco wanted to know how many DEC positions are funded through the tax and whether the money is "really being used for waste tire cleanup or for other employees."

At the budget hearing, Martens could not immediately provide the information but replied: "The short answer is is cleaning up the waste sites and it funds employees making sure those sites are cleaned up."

The day after Martens appeared before the Finance Committee, Senator DeFrancisco told Kenyon, "I get the feeling we're going to get some ammunition to try to convince the Assembly as well as the Governor to get rid of that line item and get rid of that tax."

The Senate Finance Committee provided CNY Central with the DEC's response to Senator DeFrancisco's inquiry. The Waste Tire Management Fee has been renamed the "Waste Management and Cleanup Fund. That fund pays the salaries of 141.3 DEC employees at an annual cost of $17.4 million.

The DEC further responded that over the life of the fund, the state has spent $115 million on waste tire abatement. Over the past two years, 12 sites have been cleaned up with contracts remaining for one large site on Long Island along with 20 smaller dumps across the state.

Currently the tire tax is due to expire at the end of 2016. DeFrancisco says he would like to abolish it sooner.