Union’s flood remedy: higher taxes on what’s still standing

by E.J. McMahon |  | NY Torch

Time to raise their taxes?

The New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) and its lobbying partner, the Alliance for Quality Education (AQE), are holding news conferences around the state to complain about this year’s school aid cuts and about the state’s newly enacted local property tax cap.  Yesterday’s NYSUT-AQE event in Albany featured an odd new twist on one of the groups’ favorite anti-cap arguments.

Today’s Albany Times Union offers this partial paraphrase of remarks by Martin Messner, president of the teachers’ union in the Schoharie School District, which was hit especially hard by Hurricane Irene:

Messner, who said he had to write down his words because he was exhausted from all the cleanup work after Tropical Storm Irene heavily damaged Schoharie, called the tax cap “mean-spirited” and said it will worsen the school budget season dramatically. He challenged any politician who supported the cap to come to Schoharie to see the destruction of virtually every business in town and more than 100 homes to see how many tax dollars would be gone.

Now, it would be one thing to suggest that school districts in flood-ravaged areas need some emergency state aid to compensate for the unprecedented and unforeseeable destruction of a large portion of their tax bases.  But Messner also seems to be arguing here that, to compensate for losses due to the severe flooding, the state should make it easier for Schoharie and other affected school districts to raise property taxes on businesses and homes unscathed by Irene.

As of 2010, the full-value property tax burden in the town of Schoharie was a sky-high $30 per $1,000, including $18.60 per $1,000 for the Schoharie School District, which is at least 50 percent higher than the comparable rates for typical downstate suburbs. Compensating for those high rates: property values in Schoharie were pretty low even before the flood. Then again, so were incomes.

Do union leaders really mean to suggest the state should respond to this natural disaster by making it easier for relatively poor rural areas like Schoharie to raise taxes even higher on traumatized flood survivors?

- E.J. McMahon is the President at the Empire Center for Public Policy.