INDIAN LAKE - Local, state and environmental officials were elated this week as the amended state legislative budget no longer includes a freeze on tax payments on state owned land to local municipalities.
Earlier this year, Gov. David Paterson included a measure in the proposed fiscal year 2009-2010 state budget that would have frozen tax payments on state-owned lands at 2008 levels.
This proposition led to outrage among local and state politicians alike, as well as environmental organizations, who argued that if enacted the measure would cripple local municipalities - many of whom rely on the state tax payments as a primary source of local revenue - as well as gutting many environmental protection measures.
"This whole process was really interesting to watch," state Assemblywoman Teresa Sayward (R-Willsboro) said. "The outrage over this got a lot of people working together who typically don't."
Last year, New York dolled out approximately $70 million in taxes to Adirondack municipalities in property taxes.
The state owns approximately half of the 6 million acre park.
"Everyone was upset across the board - environmental groups, upstate and downstate politicians from both parties," Sayward said. "The governor got quite a lashing over this one."
The proposed tax cap was meant to partially offset a $17 billion budget deficit for the coming year.
But local politicians said the affect on Adirondack communities and residents would be beyond unfair.
"Freezing taxes is purely criminal," Queensbury Supervisor Dan Stec said last month.
Some Adirondack communities are comprised primarily of state land.
For example, the Hamilton County town of Arietta is more than 95 percent state owned.
"The state buys all of this land and then doesn't even want to carry its end," said Adirondack Local Government Review Board executive director Fred Monroe. "If this measure had passed it would have devastated many Adirondack towns like Arietta."
Monroe cautioned that although the bullet was dodged this year, the attempt to freeze state tax payments may become a reoccurring theme in future budgets.
With the ever-increasing cost of general operation, a property tax freeze would require the local base to shoulder more of the burden, officials said.
The real crime, according to Sayward, was that while the state was attempting to shirk its own financial responsibilities, it was also imposing greater taxes on state residents.
"This budget is going to hurt the middle class," Sayward said. "Even if their income taxes aren't affected they will pay more for vehicle registration, more for driver's licenses, more for beer, wine and hunting licenses."
Traditionally opposed factions of conservative politicians and liberal environmental groups were all pleased with the death of the proposed measure.
"While it's not final yet, we are very pleased that this ill-conceived policy has been stricken from the budget," said Neil Woodworth, executive director of the Adirondack Mountain Club. "The freeze would have had a significant fiscal impact on communities in the Adirondacks, Catskills and other parts of the state and would have crippled the state's open-space program."