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Fri., Sep. 4
Serving the communities of Jefferson, St. Lawrence and Lewis counties, New York
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State of the pocketbook


North country members of the New York State Legislature gave Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo good marks for his State of the State Address delivered Wednesday in Albany.

“I certainly welcome the governor’s comments on cutting taxes,” state Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, told the Watertown Daily Times for a Thursday story.

“I think overall it’s a very balanced set of initiatives he’s outlined for 2014,” said Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell, D-Theresa.

“There were a lot of interesting and exciting proposals, particularly when you look at upstate regulatory reform and tax relief,” said state Sen. Joseph A. Griffo, R-Rome.

But Assemblyman Kenneth D. Blankenbush, R-Black River, believes some of Gov. Cuomo’s proposals do not go far enough.

He said rather than freezing property tax rates for two years, the state should reduce them.

The governor expressed his pleasure that the Legislature has been able to convert what had been a $10 billion budget deficit to a projected $2 billion surplus by fiscal year 2016-17.

This will be good news if it plays out the way Gov. Cuomo expects.

The state would have to control its own annual spending growth each year to no more than 2 percent to see this surplus.

Given the fiscal discipline that has been put into effect so far, there’s no reason to believe state legislators won’t achieve this goal.

But we’re more than two years away from FY 2016-17, and anything can happen in between now and then to derail this plan.

Which raises the first question about some of Gov. Cuomo’s tax proposals. Any plan that sets out to return more money to New York taxpayers is well worth considering, but as always the devil is in the details.

Gov. Cuomo said he wanted to use the projected surplus to offer tax relief to homeowners, renters and businesses.

But is spending money that the state doesn’t have in hand just yet a good idea?

If the $2 billion surplus is not achieved, the deficit will worsen because now we’ve added at least $2 billion in lost revenue.

And Gov. Cuomo appears to exceed the $2 billion surplus with his proposals.

He said that his plan to freeze property taxes for two years will provide $1 billion in tax relief, and his property tax “circuit breaker” program will cost another $1 billion.

OK, there’s your $2 billion surplus.

Gov. Cuomo also proposed placing his Smart Schools bond idea on a referendum, with a price tag of $2 billion.

The debt service on such a borrowing will add expenses for the state.

The total now is $4 billion, plus the debt service on the bond.

Then there are the renters’ tax credit ($400 million), estate tax reform (no amount offered for how much this will cost), business tax cuts ($346 million), real property tax credit for manufacturers ($136 million), tax rate elimination for upstate manufacturers ($25 million) and accelerate phase-out of 18-A surcharge ($600 million) — a total of more than $1.5 billion.

Add this to the $4 billion, and the grand total amounts to $5.5 billion.

Some of Gov. Cuomo’s tax relief programs are rather complicated but geared toward the same people.

Why not simply lower the income tax rate for households earning, say, less than $150,000 a year?

The two-year freeze on property taxes, for example, offers rebates to homeowners if local property tax rates remain within the 2 percent cap the first year, and keeps within the 2 percent cap and if the locality agrees to a shared or administrative consolidation plan in the second year.

The goal here is to give voters an incentive to hold the feet of their elected officials to the fire by keeping tax rates low.

In affect this is a funded mandate — consolidate, and your taxpayers benefit.

Fail to streamline your tax, and local taxpayers fork over a double price.

This is an interesting plan, but it may not work the way the governor hopes.

Taxing bodies are more inclined to set their tax rates based on what they need that year.

Public officials certainly don’t want to be voted out of office for raising taxes.

But if they need more money to balance their budgets, they may not have much choice.

If an emergency occurs and property taxes exceed the 2 percent tax cap, taxpayers in that locality will have higher taxes and get no rebate from the state.

How does this help anyone?

It’s good that Gov. Cuomo is focusing heavily on tax relief, particularly for people here in Northern New York.

But his plans should be simplified to provide the maximum benefit for residents — if we can truly afford everything that’s been offered.

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