The recent political chatter about “Obamacare” before the Supreme Court of the United States got a great deal of media attention. President Obama added fuel to the fire when he declared, “Ultimately, I am confident the Supreme Court will not take what would be an unprecedented, extraordinary step of overturning a law that was passed by a strong majority of a democratically elected Congress.”
For someone who was a law professor those words were absurd. Even if a bill passed unanimously in the house and senate, it could still be overturned – if the law was in violation of the Constitution.
Giving up is not “reform.” County Executive Ed Mangano’s proposal to transfer property assessment from the county to the towns might possibly speed up assessment decisions by replacing one large and overwhelmed bureaucracy with several somewhat smaller ones. It will likely recreate problems that were major motivations in creating our highly centralized county government 75 years ago.
The 1938 county charter merged the town Boards of Assessors and the County Board of Equalization, ending three decades of complaints, lawsuits and hard feelings about the lack of specific, uniform levels of property assessments between the towns. In a tax system screaming out for simplification, clarification and a sense of certainty, spinning off assessments to the towns will reintroduce “equalization” as an annual issue. Tens of thousands of residents are still trying to figure out why their assessment went down but their tax bill still went up. The division of taxes heading up the tax food chain in an equitable manner is the most complex subject in local government, and it’s all going to make people very sad, particularly in villages and school districts that are split between townships.
Manhattan District Attorney (D.A.) Robert Morgenthau was facing a spirited Democratic primary challenge from a former judge in 2005, but his opponent had trouble finding anything substantively negative to say about Morgenthau.
The reason I know this: a city-based tabloid newspaper reporter called me weeks before the election, asking whether it was legal to have a Manhattan driver’s license while at the same time registering and insuring a car in Dutchess County, where auto insurance premiums are much lower. The answer: yes, so long as the insured vehicle is primarily garaged in Dutchess County. I was the director of public affairs for the New York State Insurance Department at the time and knew immediately the question pertained to Morgenthau because he met those criteria.
Written by Mike Barry, Mfbarry@Optonline.Net Friday, 08 February 2013 00:00
Joseph Lhota, who is running for mayor of New York City, has correctly learned one lesson from the 2012 presidential election: 51 percent of voters will support a candidate who backs new or higher taxes so long as these same voters are convinced someone else will pay them.
In his call last month for the restoration of New York City’s commuter tax, which the state Legislature rescinded in 1999, Lhota, a deputy mayor in the Giuliani administration, has found an ideal source for additional New York City tax revenue—people who work in the city but reside elsewhere.
“I think it [the commuter tax’s return] would help tremendously,” Lhota said, in a radio interview with WCBS-AM on what he deemed the “fragile” state of the city’s finances. “New York City didn’t want it taken away...[W]e thought it was equitable and fair to the people who come to New York City, work in New York City, take full advantage of being protected by the greatest police department in the world and the greatest fire department in the world, and we thought it was only equitable and fair that there would be some small little percentage. It was less than one half of one percent.”
To be precise, the commuter tax was 0.45 percent. Yet that seemingly modest figure added up. A Nassau resident earning $50,000 in the city paid $225 per annum. Before the state Legislature got rid of it 14 years ago, then-Mayor Giuliani estimated the city would lose $500 million in annual revenues if the commuter tax went away.
Lhota, a Republican, must know the origins of the commuter tax. Truth be told, it was instituted to help New York City’s government get through a difficult financial time in the mid-1960s.
This temporary tax stayed in effect for three decades, and it took a highly unusual event—a hotly contested off-year election for a Rockland County state Senate seat in 1999—for the Democrats in the state Assembly to approve the commuter tax’s demise. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver believed such a move would boost the Democratic candidate’s chances to win in Rockland (P.S. the Democrat lost). Meanwhile, the GOP had a majority in the state Senate at the time and, given that Republican lawmakers in the state Legislature’s upper chamber came primarily from upstate and Long Island, they were eager to help their constituents, even if it meant antagonizing a Republican mayor of New York City.
Before Lhota became enamored with the commuter tax’s restoration, the conventional wisdom held that his mayoral rivals would hold the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s soon-to-be enacted fare and toll hikes against Lhota, who served as the MTA chairman in 2011-2012. I don’t think that message will gain traction because the MTA’s new rates go into effect in March, giving voters months to forget who made their pockets lighter. Plus, the MTA is always extracting money from the populace. It is what they do.