Gillibrand: Stop Property Taxes Increases
Last week, local Congresswoman Kirsten Gillibrand took her case directly to the Governor in person and sent a letter to Tom Suozzi, Chairman of the New York State Commission on Property Tax Relief to strongly encourage his Commission to find a comprehensive solution that will reverse the recent sharp increases in property taxes. The Commission is expected to release their recommendations this month.
Over the past year, Gillibrand has held numerous property tax town hall forums throughout her district in order to hear from constituents about their property and school tax burdens. In an effort to give her constituents' voice an audience with State leaders, she took their stories, solutions and concerns and put them all in a letter.
"Upstate New York families pay some of the highest state and local taxes in the country, and they need relief now. I am working with state and local officials to change our tax structure so that it works for seniors, farmers, small business owners and middle class families," Congresswoman Gillibrand said. "It is my hope that the Commission will make recommendations that separates school funding from property taxes. The current property tax system is pitting taxpayers, farmers, small business owners and seniors against school children, and this is not a constructive dynamic for adequately funding our schools. I strongly believe that we need to find an alternative source to funding our schools, because the tax burden has become too great for the families in our region."
School taxes have increased by an average rate of 7% over each of the past five years. In Congress, Gillibrand has strongly advocated ending unfunded mandates, such as No Child Left Behind, which place an unfair burden on school and local government budgets and results in higher property taxes. She is also a sponsor of the Property Tax Relief Act [H.R. 3726], which will enable the 1.4 million New York homeowners who do not itemize their tax returns to deduct their property taxes on their federal tax return. Finally, her office has assisted towns and counties with federal grant applications, and since January of 2007, her office has announced nearly $40 million in grants and earmarks for this region's funding priorities, which can often defray infrastructure costs and allow for a reduction in local taxes.
Below is the text of the letter that Congresswoman Gillibrand discussed with the Governor and sent to the Chairman Suozzi last week. Attached is a signed PDF copy:
April 29, 2008
Thomas R. Suozzi
New York State Commission on Property Tax Relief
80 South Swan Street
Albany, NY 12210
Dear Chairman Suozzi:
Thank you for your leadership as Chairman of the New York State Commission on Property Tax Relief. With the recent sharp increases in property taxes over the last decade, this Commission is an important step in finding the right policies that will lighten the property tax burden on New York's hardworking families.
Over the past six months, I have held public forums throughout the counties that I represent on the issue of property taxes. In all ten counties that I represent, my constituents consistently tell me about the hardships they face as property taxes increase at a much faster rate than their income (please note the attached few specific real life examples for your background information). Our current property tax structure discourages residents, businesses and jobs from remaining in - or coming to - New York. Furthermore, families that have lived in Upstate New York for generations are being priced out of their homes. It is clear that something must be done to bring relief to the families, farmers, seniors and small businesses in Upstate New York.
Since high property tax rates are one of the most frequent concerns I hear about, I am committed to doing everything in my power to help stop and reverse this trend. On the federal level, I have strongly advocated ending unfunded mandates, which place an unfair burden on school and local government budgets and results in higher property taxes. Furthermore, I have sponsored legislation, the Property Tax Relief Act [H.R. 3726], which will enable the 1.4 million New York homeowners who do not itemize their tax returns to deduct their property taxes on their federal tax return. Finally, I have assisted the towns and counties in my district to apply for federal grants, and since January of 2007, my office has announced nearly $40 million in grants and earmarks for this region's funding priorities, which can often defray infrastructure costs and allow for a reduction in local taxes.
Many of my constituents believe that we should no longer fund our schools primarily with property taxes, and I strongly support finding an alternative funding stream. As your Commission prepares recommendations, I encourage you to analyze specific proposals that would change the way we finance our education system. The current property tax system is pitting taxpayers, farmers, small business owners and seniors against school children, and this is not a constructive dynamic for adequately funding our schools. Separating property taxes from school funding is the best option for creating jobs and keeping families in Upstate New York.
As an interim solution to reversing the steady trend of increasing property taxes, my constituents have expressed their support for a reasonable cap or a "circuit breaker" on property taxes. A circuit breaker seems like a practical temporary solution because it could take into account the income of each property owner as well as the property's original purchase price and establish a cap on the amount of taxes a household can afford. This would protect working class families, seniors on a fixed income, and farmers from bearing an unsustainable tax burden. Increased exemption rates or tax credits should also be considered for seniors, farmers and small business owners. I also believe that the idea of having a county-wide assessor can minimize the difference in assessments and equalization rates from town to town and from year to year.
It is important that our schools have access to additional funding from an alternative source if a cap or circuit breaker mechanism is implemented, so that our school children do not suffer from any unexpected funding shortfalls. Since New York is currently facing a budget deficit, I believe that State leaders must look at the budget and find a way to increase State funding for mandated county services. Counties are required to pick up a large portion of all Medicaid, TANF and safety net program costs, and the mandated cost-sharing needs to be analyzed.
I am eager to see the results from your Commission, and hope that your recommendations will be comprehensive and can bring substantial tax relief to New York's families. Please let me know if there is anything I can do to assist you and the Commission.
Kirsten E. Gillibrand
Member of Congress
cc: Governor David Paterson
Director of State Operations Paul Francis
Secretary to the Governor Charles O'Byrne
Upstate Director of Economic Development Chairman Daniel Gunderson