In politics, the word “tax” is dirtier than the most graphic four-letter words you can think of. Any politician who plans to last in office longer than his loafers knows that you only say “tax” to blame someone else for every new tax or increase — no matter the reason — or when you boldly claim to be holding the line.
So it should come as no surprise that municipalities across the country have, for decades, found creative ways to “increase revenue streams” and “offset projected spending,” instead of “raising taxes.”
One popular backdoor tax is a fee municipalities tack on to tickets. A red-light ticket in Nassau County is significantly more expensive than in New York City or Suffolk County. In Nassau, getting caught on camera for running a red light costs $250, plus an additional $88 surcharge. In New York City, the fine is $50. In Suffolk, a red-light ticket costs $50, with an administrative fee of $30.
Why is the same violation almost six times more expensive in Nassau than in the city? And four times more expensive than Suffolk?
Red-light cameras aren’t meant to be cash cows — they’re supposed to make the roads safer. That’s why there are signs alerting drivers to the presence of a red-light camera. A quick search online yields the locations of the cameras. This isn’t a sting operation — it’s a deterrent, in the interest of saving lives.
The exorbitant cost of a red-light ticket in Nassau compared with the rest of the region leads us to question whether the fines and fees are being used as a backdoor tax.
Not completely dissimilar to red-light ticket administrative fees are the proposed water rate increases unveiled by Liberty Utilities last week.
Liberty wants to raise water rates throughout south Nassau by an average of 34 percent. In Lynbrook, the average monthly water bill would jump by $18.32. The increase sought by Liberty in Merrick is 42 percent. And in Sea Cliff, 13 percent.
While Liberty is a private company, it is ostensibly overseen by a government-appointed, nonpartisan body. Private companies don’t raise taxes. Private companies that provide public services, such as utilities, have the same taxing impact on families through rate hikes.
In a statement, Liberty said the proposed rate hikes are needed for plant investments, new infrastructure and other things.
Modest increases from time to time are to be expected, and are understood. But rate hikes of 34 percent, and more, are unacceptable. At best, it’s a sign of mismanagement.
So it’s no surprise that Hempstead town officials are howling about Liberty’s rate hikes, despite not taking earlier action. Supervisor Don Clavin said that the increases are “outrageous,” and that customers were already “overpaying” for water.
Hempstead water Commissioner John Reinhardt said that Nassau residents shouldn’t be forced to pay for drinking water so that Liberty can “generate excessive profits.”
In 2021, the state created the South Nassau Water Authority as an independent body to oversee Liberty, whose predecessor, New York American Water, was roundly criticized for excessive rates.
The water authority has not held a single public meeting.
Call it what you want — administration fee heaped on excessively overpriced tickets, rate hike, or a tax — it still costs us money. It doesn’t matter to a single mom working two jobs to put food on the table. It still costs money.
Red-light cameras save lives. Clean drinking water is essential. But that doesn’t mean we should be ridiculously overcharged for basic rights of citizenship.
Reduce or eliminate backdoor taxes. Force utility companies to cut unreasonable rate hikes. Give working-class people a break.