Cuomo gets some support for property tax freeze; others see ‘gimmick’

| Newsday

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Monday sought to counter opposition to his plan to freeze property taxes by showcasing support from his local government allies, including Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano.

Cuomo would provide a state subsidy for two years to offset any local property tax increase, but only to local governments and schools that keep spending increases under 2 percent and only if they agree to share services, consolidate or make other permanent spending cuts of 1 percent per year for three years.

But opposition to Cuomo’s plan continued.

“This so-called tax freeze bill is simply an election-year gimmick,” said E.J. McMahon of the Empire Center for Public Policy, a fiscally conservative think tank.

He said in an interview that Cuomo has exaggerated the number of local governments to 10,500, when the U.S. Census Bureau puts it at just over 3,500.

Moreover, most of the remaining districts don’t add costs to taxpayers, but handle certain services such as ambulance coverage, streetlights and libraries for communities less expensively than charging the costs to all of a municipality’s taxpayers, some of whom don’t benefit from the local services.

McMahon also noted that voters approved the special districts and when faced with a referendum to consolidate school districts or end a special district — such as Hempstead Sanitary District No. 2 in 2012 — chose not to.

 Even Cuomo’s news conference Monday to bolster his proposal backfired a bit.

 When asked to name a special district they would like to cut or consolidate, the seven local officials at the news conference froze, prompting Cuomo to call it a “bad” question.

 Eventually, Colonie Town Supervisor Paula Mahan acknowledged  that some “special districts” are paper-only entities that collect user fees but don’t necessarily add to the cost of government.

 “Whether you do it through the property tax or a special district, it’s the same thing,” said the Democrat from the Albany suburb.

The Legislature is siding with more than 100 local government and school district leaders who said Cuomo’s plan is impractical or impossible after years of layoffs and service cuts. Cuomo said 150 local government officials support his proposal.

“The point of the tax freeze is to prompt the cuts, that is the whole point of the tax freeze,” Cuomo said.

Mangano, a Republican, called the Democratic governor proposal “a great plan.”

“It’s one that needs to happen,” Mangano said. “This is the time to work across all aisles.”

Ulster County Executive Mike Hein said his county has shown cutting costs reduces property taxes.

“Property taxes are literally kicking New Yorkers out of their homes,” he said Monday in the Albany news conference.

Cuomo has said his plan is simple. Cuomo argued New York has more than 10,000 local government entities and his plan will force consolidations and shared services.

Critics including the New York State Association of Counties said Cuomo is counting many “special districts’ such as those created to erect streetlights and sewers for new neighborhoods. Those districts often have no staff and charge fees or taxes based on specific needs of those neighborhoods, making consolidation difficult or unfair to taxpayers not served by the districts, they said.

“It’s a simple equation,” countered Hein, a Democrat. “Lots of governments plus overlapping services equals high property taxes.”

The issue is a major element of the state budget due April 1. The Legislature on Monday started Senate-Assembly conference committees of rank-and-file lawmakers to arrive at compromises on various aspects of the budget.

Senate co-leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) downplayed the differences between the Legislature and governor.

“The concept is the same, we’re just taking a different approach,” Skelos said.

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