5 NY rebates offset pain in the wallet

| The Journal News

For New York taxpayers like Sue Seargent of Chenango Valley, the state’s largest and oldest program aimed at easing the tax burden isn’t a nice perk, but a necessity.

“I seriously do not know if I could afford to stay in this house if it were not for STAR,” she said, referring to the $3.4 billion annual program that shields part of a home’s assessed value from the school tax bill. “I know quite a few people in the same situation.”

Seargent is one of millions of New Yorkers who benefit from the School Tax Relief Program, in place since 1999, and four other major — and newer — plans to help taxpayers deal with property tax bills.

In fact, New York’s four direct tax-relief programs return billions of dollars to property owners each year, though critics have indicted the programs as largely cosmetic efforts that ignore the causes of the state’s first-in-the-nation property taxes.

And the state has yet to start to claw back money from homeowners who should not be receiving STAR tax breaks.

“STAR was the first in a line of many gimmicks to address high property taxes without addressing the reasons for the high property taxes,” said Ken Girardin, spokesman for the Empire Center for Public Policy, a fiscally conservative think tank in Albany. “The (tax relief) checks are a calculated effort to distract from the hard choices the state Legislature won’t make.”

Those hard choices, Girardin said, involve tackling unfunded mandates — standards or practices that New York requires its municipal governments to follow but does not provide money to cover.

One that hits school budgets directly, he said, is the Triborough Amendment to the Taylor Law, a statute renewed every three years since 1982 that mandates continued step increases for public employees, including teachers, between contracts. In effect, according to Girardin, that tilts the field in favor of public unions, incentivizing them to delay negotiations during tough economic times.

“High property taxes are the result of specific policy and legislative decisions,” he said. To rein in property taxes, “what really needs to happen is for the state to stop tying local governments’ hands — on contracts for example — and let them then make those choices on their own.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said New York has taken a variety of steps to control unfunded mandates, such as installing a new pension tier and capping the growth in Medicaid costs to counties. He has put the onus on local governments to consolidate services.

“The cost, the waste, the inefficiency of our 10,500 local governments is still this state’s financial albatross — and that is what is driving up the cost,” Cuomo said in his State of the State address in January, although the number of local governments is closer to 3,000, according to various studies.

Here are all the rebates New York offers on property taxes.

Property tax cap

New York’s property tax cap is an attempt to restrain the growth in taxes by limiting the amount of new revenue a taxing entity can levy to 2 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is lower. It does not directly limit the taxes someone pays; It holds down new spending.

Nevertheless, the tax cap has saved New York homeowners as much as $7.6 billion in school taxes since it began, according to a report last year by the Empire Center.

Since going into effect in 2012, the tax cap has steadily fallen to a record low 0.12 percent for school districts this budget year. The school budget vote (for all districts except the big urban districts, like Yonkers) is Tuesday across New York.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said New York has taken a variety of steps to control unfunded mandates, such as installing a new pension tier and capping the growth in Medicaid costs to counties. He has put the onus on local governments to consolidate services.

“The cost, the waste, the inefficiency of our 10,500 local governments is still this state’s financial albatross — and that is what is driving up the cost,” Cuomo said in his State of the State address in January, although the number of local governments is closer to 3,000, according to various studies.

Here are all the rebates New York offers on property taxes.

Property tax cap

New York’s property tax cap is an attempt to restrain the growth in taxes by limiting the amount of new revenue a taxing entity can levy to 2 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is lower. It does not directly limit the taxes someone pays; It holds down new spending.

Nevertheless, the tax cap has saved New York homeowners as much as $7.6 billion in school taxes since it began, according to a report last year by the Empire Center.

Since going into effect in 2012, the tax cap has steadily fallen to a record low 0.12 percent for school districts this budget year. The school budget vote (for all districts except the big urban districts, like Yonkers) is Tuesday across New York.

© 2016 Gannett News Service