Gov. Andrew Cuomo continued his campaign Monday to get the Legislature to support his plan to freeze property taxes for two years and push local governments to share services.

Cuomo has faced increased skepticism from lawmakers and local governments over his $1 billion-a-year proposal to provide a rebate to property taxpayers if their schools and local governments abide by the tax cap and cut their tax levy.

But Cuomo said the effort is needed. New York has among the highest property taxes in the nation.

“There has been no virtually no organized, consistent convening of jurisdictions to go through a vigorous exercise to come up with shared services,” Cuomo said at a news conference Monday, where he announced 150 local governments officials have signed on to his proposal.

The Senate and Assembly have offered different versions of Cuomo’s proposal as the sides move toward a budget deal before the 2014-15 fiscal year starts April 1. The Assembly wants to simply give the rebate check without any requirements on local governments; the Senate wants any consolidation efforts since 2012 to count toward the eligibility for the rebate.

But Cuomo said that the tax freeze is meaningless if it’s not tied to long-term savings. The tax cap limits the growth in property taxes to 2 percent a year or the rate of inflation, whichever is lower. This year, it’s 1.6 percent.

“The point is to first recognize the problem. We have too many governments,” Cuomo said. “Point two is to get them to start to work together in a way they haven’t done thus far.”

Cuomo was joined at the Capitol press conference by three county executives: Ulster’s Mike Hein and Albany’s Dan McCoy, both Democrats, and Nassau’s Edward Mangano, a Republican. Dutchess County Executive Marcus Molinaro, a Republican, also signed onto the proposal.

“I stand shoulder to shoulder with him in his fight to lower property taxes,” Hein said.

Cuomo has said that New York has 10,500 local governments, saying it is unsustainable.

Critics have challenged Cuomo’s math. U.S. Census data shows that New York has about 3,450 local governments, and Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli puts the total at about 3,800.

Cuomo is including thousands of special taxing districts, such as ones for lighting and sewer services, that aren’t governments, critics said.

“You have all these special districts that are just lines on a map,” said E.J. McMahon, president of the Empire Center on State Policy, based in Albany.

McMahon said Cuomo’s plan doesn’t tackle the real issues facing local governments, such as the mandates on union contracts, pensions and workplace laws that drive up municipalities’ costs.

“If you want to actually begin reducing the cost of local government in New York, you’re not going to do it by erasing lines on a map,” McMahon said. “You’re going to do it by erasing mandates from the law.”

Legislative leaders met in public Monday to formally lay out their budget priorities, which annually opens the last two scheduled weeks of negotiations.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, said the majority conferences in both the Senate and Assembly agree that the budget must take steps to reduce property taxes.

Silver said Assembly Democrats didn’t like that Cuomo’s tax freeze didn’t apply to New York City, which isn’t bound by the state’s 2 percent property-tax cap. Cuomo has insisted that the plan include a renter’s tax credit.

“Not everybody in the state was eligible for the freeze. It was only those that are subject to the property-tax cap and those that live within the property-tax cap,” Silver said. “So there are some parts of the state that aren’t subject to the property-tax cap to begin with, and other people’s benefits would be contingent on some local elected official deciding whether they’re entitled to it or not.”

Senate Republicans and the five-member Independent Democratic, which share control of the chamber, backed a plan that would have the state reimbursing local governments instead of taxpayers. That way the property taxpayers would pay less on their tax bill rather than waiting for a reimbursement from the state, supporters said.

“The concept is the same, we’re just doing it differently,” Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos, R-Nassau County, told reporters.

Senate Co-Leader Jeff Klein, D-Bronx, said the top lawmakers are “all on the same page” when it comes to reducing property taxes.

“We understand that we need to have property-tax relief that benefits all New Yorkers,” said Klein, whose district includes part of Westchester County. “We need to have renter relief, we have to have relief for those who have co-ops and condos, and I’m very confident that we can develop a package that meets all those needs.”

© 2014, Gannett News Service

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