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Michael Miller

Viewpoint

By Michael Miller
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Income Tax Cut: More Pain For Most In Nassau

The state has finally released its annual report on income taxes by county for 2010. It takes a few years for the dust to settle, I guess. It’s an eye-opener. And remember, officially, the “recession” ended in June 2009. Some people did recover.

As of the end of 2010, just a smidgen under 23 percent of Nassau County tax filers earned $100,000 or more, but statewide the figure is just over 13 percent. The average adjusted gross income for filers in Nassau was $86,178, just over a third larger than the state average, and exceeded only in Manhattan and Westchester. Counting only returns on which taxes were owed, the average adjusted gross income for Nassau was $119,920, 22 percent higher than the statewide average.

Drill down, and a very clear, very critical split emerges. The number of filers in Nassau County earning less than $100,000 remained virtually unchanged from 2009 to 2010 (500,469 in 2009 to 501,111 in 2010). In fact, the number of filers at every income plateau below $100,000 remained remarkably stable and consistent. Total adjusted gross incomes for this group, representing 77 percent of tax filers in the county, decreased slightly from $14.4 billion to $14.2 billion (actual state taxable income increased a bit from $6.8 billion to $6.9 billion). In other words, three-fourths of the county saw no appreciable gain in income from 2009 and 2010, as the recovery was moving into gear, as it were.

Skip down a bit, and the adjusted gross incomes of those reporting $200,000 rose more than $3.1 billion from 2009 to 2010. That’s an increase of 12.7 percent. As some of us recovered, the number of tax filers in this higher income group increased from 43,876 to 47,163, hovering at about seven percent of all filers.

Income for the 1.6 to 1.7 percent of filers earning $500,000 or more was up just under $2.5 billion. That’s an increase of 16.66 percent from 2009 to 2010. Pulling away.

Estimates based on other data and methodologies indicate that in the past three years, those at the highest levels have pulled away significantly more.

The Census Bureau has determined that the county’s median household income in 2013 was $93,214, an overall decrease of 2.7 percent since 2009, and the immediate after-effects of Wall Street’s near meltdown of the modern human economy. Hundreds of thousands of households haven’t recovered. In fact, many have lost ground.

In January 2009, the average price of gasoline in the mid-Atlantic region was $1.83 a gallon.

As of 2012, New York’s counties, towns, villages, small cities like Glen Cove and school districts are forced to depend on real property taxes and sales taxes for 72.1 percent of their locally-generated revenues as of 2012. These are the two most regressive taxes, decoupled from actual wealth of an individual. These units alone collected $28.1 billion in property taxes; school districts collected $17.3 billion in local property taxes.

Thanks to regressive taxes and the cynical manipulation of the assessment system for political purposes (“The Mangano Tax”), property owners in higher-income neighborhoods that have best held their property values or seen them nudge up over the last year have received, in effect, a windfall. It comes at the expense mostly of that 77 percent whose wealth and income are stalled or fading.

Cut to Albany. At the same moment Goldman Sachs is issuing investor notes warning about over-valuation of the stock market (“by almost any measure”), state officials are considering what to do with a temporary budget surplus that comes mostly from that giant bubble. A consensus is forming: We will have income tax cuts, which will largely benefit those already doing well and add further fiscal instability.

That tax cut is not a solution. It is a sad and giant cry for help.

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Michael Miller is a freelance writer, designer and strategic consultant who has worked in state and local government. Email: millercolumn@optimum.net