I recently had the opportunity to gather with my colleagues from Long Island to urge the Assembly to pass a two percent tax cap, an initiative by Gov. Andrew Cuomo that we passed in the Senate back in January with overwhelming bi-partisan support. Our gathering took place at the modest home of a couple in Bayport – a Long Island suburban community where they chose to raise their family. Unfortunately, this couple is finding this basic mission increasingly difficult, as their property taxes have soared from approximately $6,000 per year when they purchased their home just eight years ago, to a level currently in excess of $11,000 annually. Their story is sadly familiar to many of us in Nassau County.
I am pleased to report that on May 24, the Governor, Senate and Assembly agreed to a two percent cap on property tax levies that will go into effect for the 2012 fiscal year for local governments and the 2012-2013 budget year for school districts. Like our state budget, this represents a bi-partisan effort to bring relief to our residents and business owners.
When I was sworn in to the Senate, I promised to work with my colleagues, regardless of party affiliation, to bring meaningful relief to our overburdened taxpayers. Having realized our primary goal of passing the tax cap in the Senate, I have been working on several mandate relief measures intended to permit local governments and school districts additional flexibility and freedom from certain state requirements. It is encouraging to see that even in the absence of pressure in the form of enacted tax cap legislation, many school districts and local governments have been exercising the sort of fiscal discipline that is crucial to weathering this economic downturn – on their own terms and by their own hands.
Deep down, we all recognized that the disproportionate growth of property taxes on Long Island was unsustainable. Now it has become the undeniable truth. Regrettably, there are some who want to undermine our progress when it comes to easing the burden on our taxpayers. Understand that those who would advocate against fiscal restraint oftentimes are advocating for personal advantage. The reality is that we made a commitment to close a $10 billion budget deficit by reducing spending toward more responsible levels. The cycle of New York State routinely outspending its revenues and repeatedly turning to its taxpayers for more, simply must stop.
While overall spending was cut, we were able to minimize the impact to education funding and other critical services. This is what is meant by responsible cuts - not cutting as deeply across the board as many would have liked. That approach, although effective in the short term, could have resulted in unacceptable long-term harm, which the short term benefits would not have justified.
We all have to do our part to ease the burden on our taxpayers who have also had to tighten their belts. That said, it is also important to allow a local community to retain the power to override the limitations imposed by the tax cap under appropriate circumstances, if they so choose. The tax cap legislation includes such an option, although opponents of the tax cap rarely acknowledge this fact. As we have seen in our recent school budget votes, many school budgets across Long Island were approved with votes of over 60 percent despite increases in excess of the proposed cap. The tax cap does not eliminate the possibility of such votes in the future, it merely ensures enhanced scrutiny in budgeting – which ultimately benefits everyone.
This difficult time should be seen as an opportunity to reprioritize and increase efficiencies, as we strive to make our communities, which are already great places to live, affordable.
As always, thank you for the opportunity to serve.