Our Views: Serious about cutting taxes?


In an effort to reduce property taxes in New York State, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has come up with two promising ideas.

The first, which was announced last year, would award in $20 million in state funds to the local government that puts together the best plan to reduce taxes by consolidating, restructuring or sharing services.

The second, which is included in Cuomo’s 2017-18 state budget, is a mandate for all counties outside New York City to develop plans for sharing services among cities, towns, villages and special districts.

The plan would require county executives to convene town and village governments  to develop a tax-cutting plan of consolidation and shared services. The county executives would then have to present their cost-saving plans to county legislatures by Aug. 1. Lawmakers could modify the proposals, after which it would go to the voters in a countywide referendum in November.

Rising property taxes, Cuomo explained, are driving people off Long Island.

You might think that elected officials who frequently — and rightly — complain about high property taxes in the state would embrace the two plans.

But you would be wrong if you did.

Cuomo is getting pushback from local governments that have long resisted cooperation and consolidation as well as state legislators.

State Sen. Elaine Phillips called Cuomo’s incentives a “horrendous” approach.

While she praised the idea of making local municipalities more efficient, the Flower Hill Republican said the Democratic governor does not need to threaten their state funding for them to do so.

“I don’t need his heavy hand to come down … and tell us how to run our business,” Phillips said at a Mineola Chamber of Commerce meeting last week.

In theory, Phillips’ has as a point. In reality, not so much.

Until a state tax cap was imposed, local governments did little to slow the growth in property taxes.

And in terms of cutting spending, we can only ask how that’s going.

Phillips did offer one suggestion to reduce property taxes, at least on Long Island — an increase in state aid.

This is an always popular plan put forward by elected officials on Long Island and those running for office, both Republicans and Democrats.

At best, this can be characterized as magical thinking to which we offer three words — the state Assembly.

The chances that the Assembly, which is dominated by New York City Democrats, would cut spending in the city to increase state aid on Long Island range between none and none.

The odds might not be much better in the state Senate, where Republican control is based on the support of eight city Democrats who have split from their party in return for a share in that body’s leadership.

This assumes that Phillips is not suggesting an increase in state taxes to fund an increase in state aid on Long Island.

If not, money would have to be cut from somewhere to pay for the increase. We look forward to hearing from Phillips where those cuts would be made.

The state is already picking up increases in Medicaid that would ordinarily fall to the county — a very large expense. It is unrealistic to think it will do more.

The real problem with Cuomo’s plan is that school districts, which account for 60 to 70 percent of most property tax bills, are excluded from his effort to consolidate, restructure or share services.

It is even harder to imagine upstate Republicans — let alone city Democrats — increasing aid to Nassau County’s 56 school districts, which in several cases spend more than $30,000 per student.

Town of North Hempstead residents may like living in an area with a town government, 31 village governments, 20 town special districts and 23 independent special districts with their own elected officials.

Great Neck alone has nine village governments with nine mayors, nine clerks and nine of just about everything else as well as a school district, a library, a park district, two water pollution control districts and all or part of three fire districts.

This is not to say that residents of Great Neck and other communities on the North Shore should not have concierge-service government. It is certainly their right.

But then they ought not complain about high taxes, empty storefronts and people leaving Long Island.

A half measure as it is, we give credit to Cuomo for at least trying to do something about high property taxes.

For those oppose who him, we ask that you come forward with something better.


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