Readers Write: County income tax an idea with merit

Readers Write: County income tax an idea with merit

Regarding your editorial, thank you for your belated suggestion for an income to tax to partially supplant our broken property tax system.
It is a position I’ve held for over 30 years, when I first got involved with attempting to reform this grossly inefficient and unjust method of revenue raising, and stood witness to the damage it did.
However, we did come close to achieving this once: when Tom Suozzi was county executive, he nearly got an income tax instituted, and would have, were it not for the treachery of then Legislator Craig Johnson, who I suspect feared the wrath of his Sands Point donor class and client base.
His opposing vote killed the bill, and Nassau County continued on its way to perpetual fiscal insolvency.
First, a quick correction on your assertion that voters “approve school budgets.”
They do nothing of the kind. Voters are basically fed little more than up and down votes on niggling increases to approve or disapprove of.
This is the equivalent of being allowed to vote for the water commissioner, while an unelected legislature runs the system for their own benefit.
The main costs of our school system, a bloated, over-districted network of overcompensated employees, is left untouched, and as long as it is, property taxes will never align themselves to the real economy we live in now.
Things like mandated step raises, covering the skyrocketing costs of health insurance for school system employees, and funding roughly 10 percent of teachers and superintendent pensions through the property tax, guarantee nothing less than continuing downward mobility for most every resident, while others enrich themselves by being held harmless from massive changes taking place in the real economy.
Let us acknowledge a simple reality: There is no way for the vast majority of residents to keep ahead of this burden.
It’s time for the beneficiaries of a system created for an economy that ceased to exist decades ago to sacrifice these undeserved privileges.
This system where anxious parents have been gulled into thinking that their children are going to “good schools,” while paying over $120,000 for a K-12 education, needs to be drastically overhauled.
There are three aspects of this matter that need to be addressed in turn, and then realize how these aspects feed off each other.
1. The size of the tax burden
2. The distribution of the tax burden
3. It’s impact on Long Island residents socially and economically.
Taking the distribution matter first, it should be manifestly absurd to any observer that the presence of an additional bathroom or even a swimming pool, should target the homeowner for the entire duration of his ownership for a higher tax penalty.
This is perhaps the only place in the world where contractors have set up dedicated businesses to plow under an in-ground swimming pool for the sole purpose of lowering a property assessment.
The construct of an “accurate and fair assessment” valuation is not only laughable in its attempt to impose it, but because the size of the burden is so great, it guarantees a fertile ground for a tax challenge by magnifying every home amenity into an annuitized penalty.
In addition, since the State Real Property Tax Law mandates that a portion of taxes come from a designated class of property (i.e., single family homes), each refund to a tax payer mandates a higher tax on the homeowner who has not challenged in order to make up the difference.
So the tax challenges become self-perpetuating, which has served to create what has become the greatest Ponzi scheme ever run by a municipal government to the detriment of its own fiscal health.
The county has taken steps to mitigate this, but true to form, the effort ignores eliminating the root cause of the problem.
Moreover, the application of the burden can be very cruel: the tax is either static, or it mercilessly continues on its upward trajectory.
It never adjusts for wage stagnation, the loss of income, a pregnancy, a divorce, or any financial misfortune of the homeowner. The owners are essentially strapped to the tax levy no matter what happens in their lives, and are left with a stark choice: they either leave the County to start a new life and career, or make drastic, punishing alterations to their lifestyles and consumption habits.
The tax system gives a homeowner no quarter, and no mercy. And the ones who benefit from it couldn’t care less for the pain they inflict on their neighbors.
Clearly, the system needs a progressive element to it, one where the costs can rise and fall with the fortunes of the homeowner. This will, at long last, mitigate the distribution issue somewhat.
As far as tackling the first issue, the size of the tax burden, this can only be dealt with in a manner that will require tremendous political courage, of a kind we will probably never see.
The school system kleptocracy has to be broken up and reconstituted if we are to regain our primacy as one of the best suburbs in America to live in, and where we don’t allow businesses the leverage to extort taxpayers even more so that they deign to locate here.
This is not a wish for our educators to be underpaid or to be under compensated, but simply to realign their compensation and the educational cost structure with the norms of a new economic reality.
But there is a studied blindness among these people to the realization that while wages are stagnating for most all Americans, including Long Islanders, others have guaranteed wage increases that well outpace inflation metrics and workplace norms.
While health insurance costs have practically tripled for most American families in the past decade, the civil service is held harmless from these costs.
While working Long Islanders find it impossible to save for their retirement, superintendents retire with annual pensions of over $300,000 a year, a preposterously outsized sum that has no correlation in the private sector, and part of it funded by people who qualify for SNAP and HEAP benefits.
This is nothing less than a war against working people, and they are losing.
The NYSUT and others who fight to keep this system in place fancy themselves as champions of justice and equality.
Their hypocrisy and greed stink to God’s nostrils. In fact, these unions are the working classes’ greatest tormentors, having imposed a ruthless wealth transfer scheme from the working poor to themselves, that will continue to erode their purchasing power and quality of life so long as they choose to remain here.
And contrary to their stated mission, it’s the children of these families who suffer the most. There is no greater detriment to a child’s well being and education than economic decline.
Which brings us to the third aspect of this, the social and economic impact of the K-12 education system as it is structured on Long Island.
There are 140 school districts on Long Island.
This serves two purposes: institutionalized bloat, which provides a large voting cohort that can serve to block any reforms, and whose members can feed on billions in local and state largess.
Second, and most nefarious, the counties have been apportioned into segregated social and economic Bantustans, again, with the deliberate connivance of those who consider themselves social progressives and devoid of racist tendencies.
In fact, the K-12 school system, as it is constituted, is the most powerful tool of racial segregation extant in the nation today.
And if anyone is doubtful of this, one need only look at newly gentrified neighborhoods in Brooklyn to see this taking place right before our eyes.
Once again, those who consider themselves in the vanguard of social justice, are making road kill out of the poor, by creating and maintaining educational ghettos where the social outcome for any elementary school child is already foretold by the time they reach the third grade.
And it’s not a good outcome.
This election season, we are regaled with mailers telling us how our candidates have held taxes down, which is manifestly preposterous to any voter.
They tout their endorsements from civil service unions who maintain the false conceit that they champion workers’ rights, while obliterating the finances and futures of 90 percent of the other workers.
They make all the right noises to satisfy a pre-fabricated political template. In the meantime, the current stasis guarantees a Long Island with dwindling fortunes and options for its residents.
There are practical solutions to this, including the manner in which the civil service pays for its members health insurance costs, without burdening people who already have issues funding their own.
Eliminating the taxpayer contribution to the New York State Teachers Retirement System, a preposterous anachronism, is a no-brainer, especially since I don’t see any teachers reciprocating to my IRA.
This could be done in the next legislative session to provide some instant relief, had our elected officials had a shred of courage or integrity.
And lastly, districts must be consolidated and headcount drastically reduced.
So, there is a three step solution: the imposition of a progressive method of taxation, which will make things fairer and reduce the incentive to challenge an assessment, the realignment of educator compensation to match the economy we have now, making Long Island newly competitive, and the reordering of the school district system to lower costs and foster social equality.
Nassau can work better. I have never stopped believing this.
Donald Davret

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