In their desperate quest for something- anything-that might alleviate the property tax crisis, taxpayers are being led to believe Albany's proposed property tax cap is the answer to their prayers.
Unfortunately, in a single-minded push for the cap, the current administration has discouraged debate and simply ignored many of the New Yorkers most overwhelmed by property taxes. They are the several hundred thousand residents already paying unsustainable, double-digit percentages of their income in property tax.
Those residents will get no relief from the cap. If you can't afford your taxes today, you're unlikely to find them more affordable when they keep rising each year, as the cap provides.
Moreover, the cap's proponents generally avoid explaining that the "tax cap" only caps the increase in tax levy -- not your tax bill. A two percent cap on the tax levy can translate into a double-digit increase in your individual bill in a given year, due to individual assessment changes, reapportionment of the tax levy, etc.
Only the property tax relief measure known as a circuit breaker can help our most overburdened middle-class residents. Sometimes described as an "individual cap," it effectively limits the net amount of household income most residents would have to pay in total property tax on their home by allowing a state income tax credit for part of the property tax paid over a designated percentage of income, usually in the six to nine percent range.
Renters, who pay taxes indirectly through the landlord, may also qualify.
Bipartisan legislation we support (S912, A5542) would initially cover families with household incomes up to $100,000 ($250,000 when fully phased in) and is urgent to save homes and to help stem the middle-class flight from our state. Legislation just introduced (S4171, A7673) provides a responsible blueprint for state funding of the circuit breaker in our austere fiscal environment.
While a circuit breaker does not reduce spending, it will not lead to higher local budgets as STAR is thought to have done. That's because of the way the circuit breaker benefit is structured and because the credit would cover only 70 percent of the property tax paid above the income percentage.
The beneficiary's 30 percent "co-pay" would ensure continued vigilance against budget creep.
Proponents of the tax cap argue that the cap will limit spending. That may happen, depending largely on local situations. The limit may end up as a help or a hindrance, depending on your point of view and the impact on services you may need or want. But whatever merit one perceives in a cap, it is misleading to portray it as "property tax relief" when it will only increase property taxes.
More and more New Yorkers are expressing concern over the drawbacks and limitations of a cap, especially without mandate relief and a circuit breaker. Albany should broaden the dialogue in the remaining days of the legislative session and enact a more comprehensive solution to the property tax crisis.
John Whiteley, who lives in Ticonderoga, is legislative affairs officer for the New York State Property Tax Reform Coalition.