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Now’s the time

 

It has been more than two years since the bipartisan commission headed by then-Nassau County Executive Thomas Suozzi issued its initial report on property tax reform in New York.

By one measure-enacted legislation-nothing has changed since then. Proposals for a property tax cap have failed to win passage in the Legislature.

But in a very real sense, New York is considerably closer to a property tax cap than ever before. In early August, the state Senate voted overwhelmingly in favor of Gov. David Paterson’s proposal to cap annual increases in local property taxes at 4 percent or 120 percent of the rate of inflation, whichever is lower.

Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, the Democratic nominee for governor and heavy favorite to succeed Mr. Paterson, wants to go even farther. His proposal calls for a cap of 2 percent or the inflation rate, whichever is lower.

Voter sentiment appears to be strongly on the side of cap proponents. A Siena Research Institute poll conducted in May found that more than three-quarters of New Yorkers think the state should limit property tax increases. The results of this week’s RBJ Daily Report Snap Poll were even more lopsided: Roughly 90 percent of respondents favored a cap.

The stumbling block in Albany is the state Assembly, whose leaders side with those-such as teacher unions-who take a dim view of capping property taxes. The governor vows to press the issue with Assembly members when they return in September, but his odds of success are uncertain.

As noted here in the past, a cap is not a perfect instrument of reform. For one thing, it would only limit increases in property taxes, not reduce them. For another, it ought to be accompanied by mandate relief.

But neither of those factors should be an excuse for continuing to do nothing to relieve the burden placed on New York taxpayers. Remember: Property taxes in this state are nearly 60 percent above the national average, and in many upstate counties, as a percentage of home value, they are higher than almost anywhere else in the country.

Is a property tax cap a panacea for what ails New York? No. But enacting one could help stem the state’s outmigration and aid the cause of economic recovery.

8/20/10 (c) 2010 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or e-mail rbj@rbj.net.

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