Last week, I joined my colleagues in the Senate in passing the governor's bill to impose a 4 percent cap on school property taxes. The legislation, which still has to pass the Assembly, is not perfect, but it is a start toward controlling spending and sending New York on a path toward tax relief.
This path would be significantly shorter if a measure that I sponsored had not been blocked from coming to the floor.
The Tax Relief Triple Play (S.8733) is a comprehensive, three-pronged approach that will control the growth of your property taxes with a fair and sensible cap, grant local governments and schools relief from many of the unfunded mandates that drive up spending, and deliver tax relief to those who need it the most with the installation of a STAR Circuit Breaker that is tied to income.
These three reforms are reflective of the findings of the report from County Executive Suozzi's blue ribbon commission on how to fix New York's broken property tax system.
And yet, when an amendment was offered to get the Triple Play on the floor, the measure was not only denied, but attacked by NY State Senate Republicans.
Most of their venom was focused on the STAR Circuit Breaker, which would be created by folding in the Middle Class STAR rebate program. I was proud to vote for the measure that created Middle Class STAR last year, but the program -- while well-intentioned -- does not fully fulfill its mission of providing real relief to New York's overburdened taxpayers.
The STAR Circuit Breaker would remedy this. It is triggered when a household that makes under $250,000 a-year pays over a certain percentage of their income in property taxes. The rebate is 70 percent of the difference.
With this plan in place, a Nassau County family making the median salary of $85,994 and struggling with a median tax bill of $7,706 would receive a property tax rebate of $1,782.45. This is more than double the highest Middle Class STAR rebate given in any community in Nassau County. Enhanced Senior STAR will remain under this legislation, giving seniors the benefit and the relief offered by both programs. The Basic STAR exemption will likewise remain unchanged.
The amendment, offered by Deputy Minority Leader Jeff Klein and supported by myself and other members of the Democratic Conference, did not receive support from a single member of the majority.
What was mind boggling, however, is that many of these same Senate Republicans, including those who spoke out against my measure, have for months sponsored stand-alone legislation to establish a nearly identical circuit breaker.
Ladies and gentlemen, in case there was any doubt, we have entered the political season.
Truth is, before the introduction of the Triple Play, 16 Senate Republicans signed onto circuit breaker legislation that worked in the same manner and was also funded by folding in the Middle Class STAR rebate. One of my Long Island Senate colleagues was among the Republican sponsors. The Triple Play has 13 sponsors. Combined, 29 senators from both sides of the aisle have signed onto a bill that supports the idea of a circuit breaker.
Assembly circuit breaker legislation is sponsored by Democrats, Republicans and Independents from every part of the state. This includes two Republican Assemblymen from Nassau County.
Given these facts, protecting the Senate Republicans' dwindling majority is the only realistic explanation for their newfound opposition to the STAR Circuit Breaker.
However, blocking the STAR Circuit Breaker is not what the public wants. A Sienna poll released last month showed that 75 percent of New York State residents want a circuit breaker. Given the choice between a circuit breaker and a tax cap, a majority prefer the circuit breaker.
Both measures, along with mandate relief, should be adopted not due to their popularity, but because it is the right thing to do.
Tax relief should not be a partisan issue.
Especially in these tough fiscal times, we should be doing everything in our power to break the cycle of out-of-control property tax increases, and institute real and positive changes to what everyone admits is a broken property tax system.
I am hopeful what is needed will trump what looks good on election-year propaganda, and negotiations with the Assembly will result in the holistic reforms to our tax system that our residents need and deserve.