No More School Taxes – Just Kidding!

Posted by & filed under CGR Staff.

There wasn’t much press coverage statewide of a recent big decision by the state Senate – all but one of its 62 members voted for a bill to eliminate school property taxes.

What?! Isn’t this a huge deal? School property taxes are the bane of many a homeowner, and the Senate wants to get rid of them. Shouldn’t that be front-page news from Buffalo to Long Island?

It seems many in the Capitol press corps chose to let this story go by because the legislation is what’s known in Albany parlance as a “one-house bill.” That is, it doesn’t have a sponsor in the other house (the Assembly, in this case), and it’s not going anywhere, practically speaking.

The bill would allow voters in individual school districts to vote to eliminate the portion of their property taxes that pays for schools. If a majority of voters agreed (if?!), the school district would be required to reduce the property taxes it collects from homeowners (not businesses, an important exception) by 20% a year over five years, so that eventually homeowners would pay no school property tax.

But school districts would continue to collect the money – from the state. The Senate bill estimates the total cost to the state if every district participated in the optional program (again, if?!) at $9 billion.

Let’s give the senators credit: They got this one in just under the wire. The legislative session concludes June 21, but they were able to complete this important piece of work about a week before that and send it on over to the Assembly, where I’m sure it will be given careful study and a thorough analysis over the next, oh, 5 or 6 days.

In fact, who knows? Perhaps the Republicans who sponsored this bill will put in the extra hours to convince their Democratic colleagues in the Assembly that the 11th hour is the right time to pass such a sweeping change in taxing practice and school funding.

After all, every single Republican in the Senate – that’s 33 of them – is listed as a co-sponsor on the bill. Not one Democrat has his or her name on the bill. They must not care about property taxes, huh?

But wait, all but one Democrat voted for the bill. All but that darn Liz Krueger from Manhattan, who has some kind of hang-up about where the state is going to get the money to fund a takeover of local school costs.

I guess it’s not just the Republicans, clinging to the majority in their house by a mere two seats, who care about our property-tax woes. The Democrats give a hoot, too (no thanks to you, Liz).

The bill would also set up a commission to study property tax reform in New York, freeze property assessments for seniors (with the state once again making up the difference to schools and local governments), and provide financial incentives to local governments encouraging them to reassess property in their jurisdiction every three years to improve accuracy and fair sharing of the burden. In addition, it would require the state to pay for any “mandate” it imposes on schools or local governments that costs them more than $10,000.

I’m sure you know how troublesome those mandates are and how they cause schools and local governments to do all sorts of things they wouldn’t normally do that increase the tax burden (like negotiating generous contracts with unions, testing schoolchildren, and following health and safety guidelines).

The rest of the Senate bill sounds OK, but I’m not sure why you’d bother with it if the Senate succeeds in eliminating our school property taxes. Heck, that’s the lion’s share of my tax bill! If the Senate has figured out how to get somebody else to pay for that (those STATE taxpayers), my problems with the property tax are solved.