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A very big burden

The property tax burden in New York is not the only problem standing in the way of a revitalized state economy. But it is a very big one.

Anyone who thinks that’s not so should take a close look at the Tax Foundation’s analysis of just-released 2009 Census Bureau data. Then try to spin the numbers any other way.

The painful truth for Monroe County taxpayers is that their combined 2009 property tax bill, as a percentage of median home value, was highest in the nation. This dubious distinction is new but only marginally worse than before; from 2005 to 2008, the county annually ranked second or third among nearly 800 counties nationwide.

Elsewhere locally, Wayne County last year had the third-highest combined property tax bill as a percentage of median home value; Ontario’s was 33rd. In the top 10 nationwide, nine were New York counties.

Comparing the 50 states, New York had the 17th-highest bill as a percentage of median home value. Ranked by median real estate taxes paid, only three states had heavier burdens.

It would be one thing if the differences among counties and states were minor. However, New Yorkers’ property taxes are much higher than the U.S. average.

Two months ago, the state Senate voted overwhelmingly in favor of Gov. David Paterson’s proposal to limit annual increases in local property taxes to 4 percent or 120 percent of the rate of inflation, whichever is lower.

Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, the Democratic nominee for governor, has proposed a tighter cap of 2 percent or the inflation rate, whichever is lower. His Republican opponent, Carl Paladino, says he supports a cap but adds, "Capping taxes is gutless; cutting taxes takes courage. I will cut taxes." He has not said how, though.

New York needs lower taxes; it also needs mandate relief for local governments. But a property tax cap is a necessary first step-and long overdue.

At the same time, it’s worth noting once again that New York taxpayers have a chance annually to vote on the single largest property tax bill they pay: school taxes. This year, 92 percent of local school budgets were approved statewide.

For tax relief, more voters might try pulling the "no" lever.

10/1/10 (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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