We’d like to think that the unwillingness of Nassau County Republican legislators to bring the so-called Taxpayer Protection Plan to a vote reflects a newfound opposition to a five-year phase-in of changes brought by the first reassessment of property in eight years.
Perhaps, one might hope, the Republicans changed their minds and now believe that the half of the county property owners who have been overpaying their taxes the past eight years would no longer have to subsidize the other half of county property owners who have been underpaying their property taxes.
But this is Nassau County.
And the Republican majority in the Legislature sat in silence for eight years during Republican Ed Mangano’s reign as county executive when there was no reassessment and $2.7 billion in property taxes was shifted from people who challenged their property taxes to those who didn’t.
They also just so happened to be generally younger, less affluent and more likely to be members of a minority group
And Republican legislators were the first to call for a five-year phase-in of the changes after County Executive Laura Curran actually did what she said she would during her successful election campaign and conducted a countywide reassessment.
In an interview with Blank Slate Media, Legislature Presiding Officer Richard Nicolello said that to make people who have been underpaying their taxes begin paying their fair share immediately would impose such financial hardship that they would have to sell their homes.
Unmentioned were the people who had been overpaying their taxes — some for the past eight years — who under his plan would continue to overpay their taxes for the next five years, though a lesser amount with the phase-in.
Curran backed the Republicans’ demand for the victims of the county’s dysfunctional system to continue to subsidize the beneficiaries by phasing in reassessment changes over five years. She was followed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state Legislature.
The Republican legislators responded with a call for a referendum to make the county assessor an elected position – as it had been until 2008, when Nassau voters opted for the position to be appointed by the county executive.
These same Republican legislators said nothing when Mangano failed to appoint a certified county assessor and watched an exodus of staffers from the office.
Now, the Republican legislators point to assessment errors that took place after Curran appointed David Moog as Nassau County assessor.
These included the wrong assessment roll being posted in January with 18,400 errors in property tax assessments, 60,000 tax impact notices requiring correction in November 2018 because the assessor used preliminary home values instead of final values and 20,000 assessment disclosure notices being recalculated because the property tax assessments exceeded the state property tax cap.
The Republicans’ position did not change after Newsday published an analysis of Nassau County’s property reassessment and found “that the new assessments are well within every major professional standard of accuracy and fairness.”
Nor did it change after the New York State Office of Real Property Tax Services concluded that the reassessment eliminated the inaccurate and unfair wide disparities among home values.
Instead, the Republican legislators unsuccessfully sought to override a Curran veto of a referendum vote that passed along party lines with a Republican majority made possible by the Legislature’s gerrymandered district lines.
Nicolello said the referendum would have given the people “the right to decide whether the assessor should be elected and accountable to the residents of Nassau County or appointed and accountable to the county executive.”
With studies showing that Moog had made the county’s assessments accurate and fair this seemed like an odd time to seek a change.
If anything, a call for accountability would better argue for a redistricting commission to determine the legislative districts after the 2020 census.
After the last census, a 10-9 Republican majority in the Legislature created 12 districts with a majority of Republican voters and seven with Democratic voters – even though there are more registered Democrats in Nassau County.
And then there is the timing.
The Legislature’s latest vote came a week after Rob Walker, Mangano’s chief deputy and a onetime top GOP fund-raiser, pleaded guilty last Wednesday to obstruction of justice following a federal investigation of political corruption.
And not long after Mangano and his wife, Linda, were found guilty of political corruption. And not long after Republican Town of Hempstead Councilman Edward Ambrosino pleaded guilty to tax evasion in federal court. And not long after former Republican Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos of Rockville Centre was found guilty of political corruption — for a second time.
One might argue that these convictions and guilty pleas were a good reason to seek an electable and accountable county assessor – not appointed by the county executive. Or that this is a good reason not to vote for Republicans countywide seats.
More of a mystery is why Curran and Democratic county legislators are so intent in delaying an assessment system in which everyone would pay their fair share.
Nassau County Legislature Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport) and members of the Minority Legislative Caucus demanded last week that Republican lawmakers “end their politically motivated stall tactics” and implement the phase-in plan.
“It’s time for the Republican Majority to stop playing politics with assessment and instead focus their energies on protecting taxpayers from the consequences of a mess the previous administration and its enablers chose to create,” Abrahams added. “They can take a step in that direction by enacting County Executive Curran’s Taxpayer Protection Plan without delay.”
How is it fair to require the half of county property owners who have been overpaying their taxes for the past eight years to continue to subsidize the half of county property owners who have been underpaying their property taxes?
How is the Democrats’ demand not a “politically motivated” attempt to appeal to party voters who challenged their assessments, while hoping that those who have been overpaying are happy with what they get?
Historically, Democrats presented themselves as the party of the little guy. What happened?
The answer to that question goes a long way in explaining why Donald Trump is president.