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Together a Tax Cap & Circuit Breaker Will Provide Much Needed Relief

By State Sen. Darrel J. Aubertine

There has been a lot of talk in recent weeks about my proposal for property tax relief. With our school tax bills due in the coming weeks, I’d like to take this opportunity to write about the plan I support because I believe it will provide real relief for the people who need it most.

Under the plan I support, seniors will continue to receive their enhanced STAR exemption and other home owners will get their basic STAR exemption. Anyone saying I want to gut these programs does not understand my proposal.

My proposal is to enact a property tax cap for school districts, along with mandate relief, a framework for school districts to cut costs by working together, and a circuit breaker to cap a property owner’s tax bills at a percentage of their income. Throughout the region this comprehensive plan would provide substantial relief for many homeowners.

The simple fact of the matter is that the property tax cap is not enough. In most cases this would only reduce the speed at which our property tax bills continue to grow. An increase is still an increase. The property tax cap that I supported would only achieve a portion of the relief we all want from high taxes. I supported the cap because it is a starting point, but in and of itself, it is not the complete solution.

Mandate relief is needed because too often our school districts are being told by the state how to spend their resources when education in rural areas compared to urban and suburban towns is not a one-size-fits-all situation. The elected school boards and administrators need the ability to make decisions appropriate for the students they serve. These boards are accountable to the voters and it is the local people familiar with the needs of their school district who can best decide how spend precious education dollars.

The comprehensive approach I support also includes a proposal for consolidated services along the same model as BOCES, which serves large blocks of school districts to provide the best value for every dollar spent. School districts should be encouraged to share fuel depots, payroll or administration expenses to free up more money for the direct education of our children.

Lastly, the part that is perhaps least understood is the circuit breaker program which would be like a STAR program, except that it applies to all property taxes paid—school, town, village, city and county. This program is the one that will benefit homeowners without impacting their STAR or enhanced STAR exemptions. Essentially, it caps what we pay in property taxes at a percentage of our income so anything paid over that counts as income tax already paid. Current proposals have that percentage at 6 percent, though I would like to see it lower to provide relief for even more homeowners.

The circuit breaker program has support from both Republicans and Democrats. Because this benefit would be provided through your income tax return, we can save the millions that we waste just to print the Middle Class Rebate checks and provide income tax benefits in excess of the current rebates for many in Central and Northern New York. It would also have the potential to nullify the impact that many have seen from recent revaluations in their towns or cities. This proposal would be especially beneficial to anyone on a fixed income, such as many of our seniors.

I believe this proposal would provide the relief we need. I do not believe the circuit breaker alone is the answer, just as I do not believe the property tax cap for school district levies is a viable option on its own. These programs need to work together with mandate relief and consolidated services to help business owners and homeowners carrying the burden of high property taxes.