‘Forever Taxable’ campaign resists state land PILOTs

ALBANY — Committees that advise the state on the Adirondack and Catskill parks have teamed up to oppose a plan in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Executive Budget that would stop the state paying property taxes on its land and instead make payments in lieu of taxes (PILOT).

Members of the New York State Forest Preserve Advisory Committee and Catskill Park Advisory Committee have created the “Forever Taxable” coalition. Both groups, which advise state officials on management of the Forest Preserve, passed resolutions opposing the PILOT plan. The new coalition wants the state to keep paying its current share of property taxes to the towns, counties and school districts that host “forever wild” public Forest Preserve.

New York’s budget chief Robert Mujica says each town, county, city and school district would get as much or more money, but in the Adirondacks, local government leaders and environmental groups aren’t buying it.

Currently in the Adirondacks, town assessors appraise the value of state property within their borders, as per the New York Real Property Tax Law, which says, “State lands subject to taxation shall be valued as if privately owned.” The new proposal would eliminate the need for annual assessments, which Mujica says eats up a lot of state time and tax money. The PILOTs would pretty much match the tax, he said, since they would increase at the rate of each local government’s tax cap — which might be more than the actual tax levy if a local government stays under the cap.

But the increase would be capped at 2 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is less, and that might be less than local governments need, forcing them to take the balance from other taxable property.

“A PILOT could be decreased significantly over the course of time by the Governor’s Division of the Budget and State Legislature, negatively impacting Adirondacks and Catskill local budgets and likely resulting in a loss of local services or a tax shift to other landowners in those districts,” read the resolutions approved by both advisory committees.

The Adirondack and Catskill parks encompass private and public land in parts of 15 counties and dozens of towns and school districts. In both parks, the public Forest Preserve is protected by the state Constitution’s “forever wild” clause, which prohibits logging and development.