It’s safe to say that few Capital Region residents split their time between an upstate residence and a rent-controlled apartment in the five boroughs.
So with just 11 days left in the legislative session, should the citizens of Albany, Niskayuna or East Greenbush be concerned about housing policy in New York City?
The short answer: You bet.
The longer answer requires a reminder that the creation of state’s 2 percent property tax cap was wrapped into the previous renewal of rent regulations, in 2011. But while the cap is scheduled to expire or “sunset” next June, rent rules expire on June 15, and it remains to be seen if the two mechanisms will be extended as they stand now, reformed in large or small ways, or decoupled.
The outcome will depend on the political will of state lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
“Is (the tax cap) a high enough priority of the Senate or the governor to prompt them to hold up the final deal on — among other things — rent control to do it?” asked E.J. McMahon of the Empire Center, a conservative fiscal policy think tank that wants the cap made permanent.
“The way things are shaping up, the Assembly has more needs than any other party,” he said of the chamber that is dominated by Democrats. “… The normal end-of-session development is some sort of deal in which … needs and wants are traded. If the governor and/or the Senate really is committed to (the cap) as a high priority, they can make it happen.”
The tax cap was a Cuomo proposal, but it has been championed in the Republican-controlled state Senate. The chamber last week passed legislation that would make the cap permanent. For its part, the Assembly passed a one-house rent regulation package last week that did not include an extension of the tax cap.
A complicating factor is the simultaneous sunsetting of the 421-a tax abatement program, which benefits New York City real estate developers but also requires them to construct a certain percentage of affordable units in new buildings.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio discussed these overlapping agenda items and more on Wednesday, when he conducted a one-man lobby day in meetings with Cuomo, legislative leaders and the media. De Blasio wants to see rent laws strengthened and 421-a amended.
“Leadership requires taking responsibility,” de Blasio said when asked to respond to the idea that Albany’s ethical turmoil might make it hard to pass anything but straight extensions. “I think the notion that there’s not an appetite (to amend both items) is something I reject. … I understand it’s been a rather unusual situation the last year in Albany, but the people’s issues don’t go away.”
Progressive advocates would like to add another item to the end-of-session list: Cuomo’s proposal for a tax “circuit breaker” to benefit low- and middle-income homeowners and renters. Proposed in January, the program would provide credits to homeowners who make less than $250,000. The credits would be worth up to 50 percent of the amount of property taxes they owe that exceed 6 percent of their income. The plan also included credits for renters earning less than $150,000 to assist them with the portion of their rent that goes toward property taxes.
That plan was included in the Assembly’s one-house budget proposal, but the state Senate left it out of its one-house plan in favor of a revival of the STAR rebate program — and making the property tax cap permanent.
But with the end of session bearing down, the tax cap has attracted the most buzz.
“The cap doesn’t expire until June of 2016, so this sense of urgency they’re placing on it I don’t really understand,” said Fiscal Policy Institute Executive Director Ron Deutsch at a Wednesday news conference. “The sense of urgency should be on providing tax relief to struggling homeowners now … and then dealing with the cap — whether it’s permanent or modified or rejected — next year when it’s supposed to be reauthorized.”
Deutsch wasn’t receptive to the idea of linking the circuit breaker to rent regulations or other policies in the sort of complex end-of-session deal that’s known as a “big ugly.”
McMahon said the $1.66 billion cost of the circuit breaker would be better spent in other ways, such as reducing the local share of Medicaid costs by the same amount. (He’s not a fan of the STAR rebate, either.)
Senate Republican spokesman Scott Reif said the conference has “long been at the forefront of efforts to reduce property taxes in New York, and we are always looking to do more.” The Senate on Wednesday passed a bill that would require costly state-mandated programs imposed on municipalities or school districts to be funded by the state.
Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi said the governor still believes his proposal is the best way to get real relief for property taxpayers and renters.
“As proposed, this program will be phased in beginning in the 2016 tax year and we will continue to work with the Legislature to make this law before then,” Azzopardi said. “As the governor has repeatedly said: New York has no future as the high-tax capital of the world.”
A spokesman for Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie did not respond to a request for comment.
Asked last week by a reporter about linking the tax cap to any other policy, Heastie quipped, “You want me to negotiate with you right here?”
© 2015 Albany Times Union