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A Little Cap craziness

October 31, 2011 - John Stack
Remember the good old days? Back when Betty Little was in the Assembly? She may have been in the minority party, but was on Local Services committees but seemed to understand localities problems and rightfully did blame the structure in Albany and the ‘good old boys’ network and the ‘3 men in a room’ for many of the ills of New York. Now she is in the Senate where the GOP rules. Until Andy Cuomo was elected, her main focus seemed to be to complain about nothing more than anything that had to do with any democratic ideas. Now that Prince Andrew has his 2% tax cap in hand, Betty Little has seem to fallen to even more of a political hack. I have argued about how poorly the 2% cap has been written. To sum up, the 2% is an arbitrary number that does not take into account inflation (other than to counterintuitively keep the cap at 2% OR the rate of inflation, whichever is lower). This is in itself is proof that the purveyors of this cap really have no clue. Secondly, it is at best INDIRECTLY connected to how much a town/school/county SPENDS. Municipalities have found themselves cutting drastically their spending only to STILL be well over 2%. Just ask Tupper Lake school how they cut 25% of their staff and still raised taxes almost 10 percent. There is also a little understood levy/spending/taxable value problem in the North Country. I pay Saranac Lake school taxes. Close by is Lake Placid school taxes. Believe it or not, the tax rate is INCREDIBLY low, regardless what you may hear. (Pssst! If you live in a $835,000 house you will be paying a real lot in taxes no matter where you live!) We have millage rates under 10/1000. This is around half or less than the majority of tax rates in the area. This isn’t because of incredible efficiencies and the like in Saranac lake and Lake Placid. It is because we have huge amounts of State land and lots of 2nd home owners with no kids in the school, and small enrollments. In fact, lake Placid and Saranac Lake have some of the highest paid school teachers with the best contracts in the area. If you don’t believe me, check out the contracts and tax rates for the next school district over from Lake Placid, Au Sable Valley. So, we have good schools and low taxes by way of geography more than anything else. The tax cap though is based upon the LEVY. The levy is how much has to be raised by taxes, after all other revenues have been subtracted. Year to year, those revenues can fluctuate wildly. For counties, sales tax collections can vary wildly year to year, and for places like Plattsburgh, the cheaper the dollar, the more Canucks in the malls. Other revenues can be the sales of jet fuel at the Lake Clear airport. That revenue is a big part of Harrietstown’s budget. That is not controlled by what Harrietstown does at all. It has to do with fuel prices, the economy and the like. None of which Harrietstown Town board can do anything about. To be sure, when a school board hands out a ridiculously beneficial contract (like the latest unbelievable Lake Placid contract) – the school/municipality has locked itself into guaranteed override attempts or staffing reductions down the road. For many, it is about the whims of the State government. Be it Medicaid reimbursement, school aid, or unfunded mandates, it really is NYS spending and mandates that drive the levy. If the state cuts aid or creates another unfunded mandate, a locality can be as frugal as they can be, but it is for naught. Which brings me back to Betty Little. In a recent article in the Enterprise (see link) she implored localities NOT to exceed the cap. It makes me wonder if she is really that ignorant, or something even more nefarious? SHE is the one that votes on State budgets that cut local funding and drive up tax levies (poor areas reliant on state funding more than rich areas get hit twice as hard). She is the one that votes on adding new unfunded mandates. In a blog just a few months back, I detailed unfunded mandates –just in the area of assessing – that continue to rise even after Cuomo’s stated pledge to lessen mandates. It upsets me that Little is among the crowd who keeps telling localities rising taxes are there problem, their fault, and the localities have to sacrifice whereas it is HER (by way of HER being part of the majority in the Senate) who is the real cause of high taxes in New York…


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