Guest Spot: We must pass the state tax cap test

05/25/2011 12:02 PM |

Painful property tax increases could cease if state legislators wholeheartedly enacted Governor Cuomo’s property tax cap that limits annual property tax increases to 2 percent.

It is what voters want. In fact, last month’s Sienna College poll said that New Yorkers overwhelmingly favor the idea of a tax cap, 75 percent to 21 percent.

A tax cap with mandate relief for Long Island can be achieved, but it presents a real test for all of us, specifically our state elected officials.

First, it will be a test for the governor. Can he effectively leverage the overwhelming 3-1 margin of support for a tax cap so that a bill enacting a cap finally becomes law?

The governor’s “put people first” statewide tour, which I attended this past week, shows that he is striving to pass that test. Rather than just negotiating with the obstinate state Legislature, he is taking his advocacy to the citizenry and asking us to take action by educating our neighbors and fellow voters.

His message included sharing the findings of the nonpartisan Tax Foundation, which found Suffolk’s property taxes to be 281 percent higher than the nation’s median real property tax base. In fact, all New York’s counties are in the top 20 percent nationwide.

Equally disturbing was last week’s survey that determined 26 percent of all New Yorkers plan on leaving within the next five years — that number includes 36 percent of those under 30 — due largely to New York’s crushing tax burden.

However, the governor anticipates that not all districts would welcome a 2 percent tax cap, and that is why he included an override provision if 60 percent of the voters in a school district chose to opt out of the cap. Also exempted from the tax cap are capital expenditures, such as the cost of new buildings or buses.

Second, it will be a test for the state Senate. To the Senate’s credit, on a bipartisan basis they passed the governor’s hard cap bill in January. But a bill passing only one house of the Legislature provides no relief to taxpayers. There is quite a bit of heavy lifting that our state senators must do if they really are serious about a tax cap.

Such an effort should include Long Island’s nine state senators building a coalition with their 21 fellow Assembly members to lobby as a regional bloc, rather than remaining complacent in their safe cocoon blocs of Republican versus Democrat or Assembly versus Senate. To date, such a Long Island non-partisan regional bloc has not transpired, even though there is just over one month left before the Legislature leaves Albany for the year. Such a regional bloc can not only push forward a tax cap, but will have the muscle to obtain true mandate relief for townships and school districts.

Third, it is also a test for eerily silent suburban Assembly members, especially those in the Democratic majority, of which there are seven on Long Island. They must join the governor by insisting that a mutually agreed upon property tax cap bill, with the appropriate mandate relief, passes both houses and is delivered to the governor’s desk.

Finally, it is a test for us as citizens to truly begin holding our elected officials accountable.

Our yardstick should be the old mariner’s adage: Don’t tell me the seas are rough, just tell me that you brought the boat to harbor safely. The opponents of a property tax cap may create choppy seas, but East End taxpayers must no longer tolerate excuses of political turbulence.

Our message to our legislators is simply this: Bring an enacted property tax cap and mandate relief law back to harbor.

Ms. Calcaterra is a New Suffolk attorney who made an unsuccessful bid to gain the Democratic line in last year’s First State Senate District election.