Budget omits state land PILOT

As state legislators approved a $168 billion budget for the upcoming fiscal year on Friday, they left out a controversial proposal to change the way the state pays local taxes on its lands.

According to the New York Real Property Tax law, state-owned Forest Preserve land in the Adirondack and Catskill parks “shall be valued as if privately owned.” The Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) proposal would have supposedly saved money on staff time by eliminating annual assessments. Instead, it would have matched current taxes and increased them annually at the rate of each local government’s tax cap, the rate of inflation or 2 percent, whichever is less.

But even at the maximum 2 percent, the PILOT increase would have fallen short of the state’s own projected increases for its property value. According to the state’s projections, the increase in the value of the land — the overall assessment — would surpass the PILOT’s maximum 2 percent annual increase.

Local government and environmental leaders strongly opposed the proposal, as did the Adirondacks’ state representatives.

State Assemblyman Billy Jones, D-Chateaugay, wrote in a press release, “Here in the North Country, local governments already have tight budgets, and the governor’s proposal would have put vital funds at risk. That’s why I fought to make sure the 2018-19 state budget rejected the proposal to shift to payments in lieu of taxes (PILOTs) for the state’s property tax payments for Forest Preserve lands. Currently, state land in the Adirondacks is assessed in the same way private lands are, requiring the state to pay taxes to North Country communities. These taxes provide critical revenue that localities depend on for services benefiting residents and tourists.

“A shift to PILOTs would have overburdened taxpayers, who would have had to make up for the money lost by municipalities and counties. It would have also left local governments with less leverage to negotiate with the state in the future.

Assemblyman Dan Stec, R-Queensbury, said in a statement to the press, “I was very pleased to see the PILOT proposal removed from the One-House budget, which would have changed the way the state would pay taxes on forever wild lands in New York; this is a big victory for North Country communities.”

However, Stec expressed frustration with the budget and the budget process. “I can’t help but point out the continued overspending in this plan. We were forced to vote on a proposal that is over $170 billion. In comparison, Florida’s proposed state budget this year is $87.46 billion. Additionally this budget contains far too many policy initiatives that should be properly debated on the floor as separate bills.”

In a conversation with the Enterprise, Stec said, “The $168 billion should be enough by itself, but we incorporate a lot of policy in the budget process.” Although “a lot of the policy stuff” was eliminated, he said, “I question how we produce our product.”

State Sen. Betty Little wrote, “The new state budget also does not include increases in taxes or fees. For taxpayers and small businesses, in particular, it is important the state holds the line on revenue raisers for affordability, the health of the economy and for job creation.

“The State Budget includes a large increase in school funding. †The increase in foundation aid over what was proposed in the executive budget will be especially helpful to our schools now in the process of formulating their own budget plans.

“The budget also provides increased funding for community colleges and other higher education programs.

“I am pleased there is funding for numerous health care initiatives, including $1 million for Lyme and Tick-borne disease given the increased rate of exposure we are seeing in the North Country and Adirondacks.”

Little said the budget funds numerous local initiatives she identified as priorities, including:

¯ $250,000 for the Adirondack Lakes Survey Corporation

¯ $300,000 for the Visitor Interpretive Center at Paul Smith’s College and former VIC run by SUNY ESF in Newcomb

¯ $600,000 for the Northern New York Agricultural Development Program

¯ $225,000 for the New York Maple Producers Association

¯ $700,000 for a Lake George Parks Commission capital project

¯ $500,000 for autism regional centers including SUNY Plattsburgh

¯ $50,000 for the Epilepsy Foundation of Northern New York

¯ $310,000 for Franklin County for Native American land claim property tax reimbursement

¯ $250,000 for North Elba costs associated with maintenance of ORDA facilities

¯ $200,000 for the Adirondack North Country Association for economic development

¯ $150,000 for the North American Center of Excellence for Transportation in Plattsburgh

¯ $400,000 for the North American Logger Training School at Paul Smith’s College

¯ $100,000 for the North Country Behavioral Network for suicide prevention programs

¯ $185,000 for Joseph P. Dwyer Veterans Peer to Peer counseling in Warren and Washington counties.

Little wrote, “I want to thank all of the individuals and groups who traveled to Albany the past two months to advocate. Their time and effort to make the case for what they wanted in the budget, or didn’t want, is something I greatly appreciate.”