Property tax proposal: Matt's Memo

Andrew Cuomo and George Pataki.

Governor Cuomo has become a big fan of Commissions created to solve the state's greatest problems. He has used them to find solutions to ethics problems, financial challenges and now tax relief. Commissions get a mandate from the governor to dig deeply into issues that concern him. In an intense, yet brief, period of study the group of largely political leaders reach conclusions and propose solutions. That road map can then provide the governor a basis from which to make concrete policy and budgetary proposals.

The commissions create a sense of bipartisan cooperation. The skeptic in us might alternatively describe the bipartisan appearance as political cover. This Tax Relief Commission featured former Governor George Pataki, a republican, sitting side by side with the democratic governor as he announced the findings.

The announcement of the findings suggested a property tax freeze for local governments over the next two years. The state would offer some financial support to property tax payers who live in towns or villages who stick with the state's recent two percent property tax cap. The oddity of Albany putting out an order to hold property taxes is this. Albany does not set the property tax. It sets the limits on income taxes, approves local sales tax rates and administers countless other taxes, but it does not levy property taxes.

It is a nice idea to limit property taxes, but the irony is rich that the order is coming from the same level of government that has forced costs on localities without the corresponding financial support. Another problem with the commission's suggestion comes with the absence of an explanation of what must be left out of the budget in order to keep property owners from having an increasingly high tax bill. Will there be less money for education? Will fewer highway projects get done?

The governor and commission members deserve great credit for advancing the discussion. They also added several tax cuts for businesses and wealthy people who wish to pass along substantial estates without paying taxes. We'll have to see the details of the administrations budget and plans for the coming year before we know whether the wish list put together can actually be enacted.


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