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Friday, December 19, 2014

Our taxes are sky-high, but the tax cap will help

I ran for governor against Eliot Spitzer in 2006 on a platform to cap property taxes. He won. It was a painful experience, but it laid the groundwork for Spitzer and his successor, David Paterson, to appoint me to chair the New York State Commission on Property Tax Relief, which advocated for a tax cap.

Now we have a cap, but property taxes remain the No. 1 downside to living on Long Island. Nassau has either the highest, or second-highest, property taxes in America, depending on when you check the rankings (Westchester County trades places with us), and Suffolk and Rockland counties aren’t far behind. Why? If every Republican and every Democrat is against high property taxes — and they say they are — why are they so high?

There are five reasons.

Waste, fraud and abuse. That’s always the most popular. We see all of the “gotcha” reports in the press, and charges by political opponents “exposing” the stupidity or criminality of a sitting administration. This is always heightened by one-party rule, when the people in power get lazy and careless, but truth be told, there is waste and fraud and abuse in every government in the world.

Too many governments. New York City has one government for 9 million people. It handles everything from schools to parks to roads to prisons to senior citizens to the fire and police departments. Nassau has more than 400 governments, and Suffolk has more than 500. This gives us local control and services, but lots of overhead and duplication as well.

Long Island is a net “donor.” We pay much more in income taxes to the federal and state governments than we get back in federal or state aid. While we subsidize southern and midwestern states and upstate New York with our billions of income tax dollars, we pay those stratospheric property taxes.

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