Archive for January 2012

New tax cap legislation rife with loopholes – By George J. Marlin

January 28, 2012

New York’s property tax cap only kicked in on the first of the year and already there have been widespread reports of taxpayers confused by the new law’s formulas and of computation errors made by local governments.

The New York State Comptroller’s Office, which monitors municipal budget compliance, has recently revealed that 66 percent of the budgets it has reviewed so far have made tax cap calculation mistakes.

What many New Yorkers have failed to grasp is that the cap law, which limits the increase of property tax levies imposed by municipalities and school districts to 2 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is less, does contain loopholes.

Counties, cities, towns, villages and special districts outside of New York City can raise taxes beyond the cap if a supermajority (60 percent or more) of its governing bodies vote for a cap override. The New York State Department of Taxation and Finance set the parameters for such a move this way:

A budget officer or chief executive may prepare a tentative budget that requires a tax levy in excess of the levy limit. However, the governing body cannot, without first complying with override requirements, (i) adopt a budget that requires a levy in excess of the tax levy limit, or (ii) impose or cause the imposition of a tax levy to the extent that a budget requires a levy in excess of the levy limit.

School districts can increase taxes over the cap if 60 percent of the district voters who turn out to the polls vote to do so. If taxpayers turn down at the ballot box proposed budgets twice for a given fiscal year, however, the district must freeze their property tax levies in a contingency budget. The tax cap law clearly states there can be no exceptions:

Notwithstanding any other provision of law to the contrary, if the qualified voters fail to approve the proposed school district budget upon resubmission or upon a determination not to resubmit for a second vote … the sole trustee, trustees or board of education shall levy a tax no greater than the tax that was levied for the prior school year.

Other tax cap loopholes:

Annual pension contributions that are greater than 2 percent of the municipality or school district payroll are exempt from the cap. With pension costs expected to zoom in the coming years, due to overly generous benefits and lackluster investment returns, expect this to be the most controversial exemption. Annual contributions that have consumed, on average, about 8 percent of local budget expenditures are expected to exceed 16 percent by 2018. For many government bodies, this will mean annual tax levy increases will exceed 2 percent.

If voters approve the issuance of school district bonds to finance capital projects or improvements, the principal and interest payments on the debt are excluded from the tax cap calculation. Because capital projects bonds are backed by the full faith and credit of a given school district, a cap would violate that pledge and prevent the bonds from being underwritten by the investment community.

A governmental entity’s tax levy can exceed the cap if the cost of a tort lawsuit settlement or judicial award exceeds 5 percent of the tax levy in a fiscal year.

Finally, a municipality can carry over to the next fiscal year up to 1.5 percent of unused tax levy growth. In other words, if a township raises the tax levy only 1 percent, the remaining 1 percent of the annual 2 percent cap can be rolled into the next year’s levy cap, which would then total 3 percent.

A little confusing? Perhaps. Remember, however, despite the imperfections, the property tax cap legislation signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in 2011 is an important first step in the struggle to curb the ravenous spending appetites of New York’s municipal leviathans.

The Church Persecuted – 2011 – By George J. Marlin

January 25, 2012

This article I wrote appears on The Catholic Thing web site on January 25, 2012.

New Yorkers voting with their feet – By George J. Marlin

January 15, 2012

 The following appears in the January 13-19, 2012 issue of the Long Island Business News:

In the first decade of the 21st century, the Empire State suffered a loss of 1.6 million citizens to other parts of the nation. The Manhattan Institute’s Empire Center in Albany has reported that 60 percent moved to the South and 30 percent established residences in neighboring lower tax states of Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Connecticut.

Other vital statistics concerning outward-bound New Yorkers:

In the past half-century, New York lost 7.3 million residents to other states. The net loss, after factoring in 4.8 million foreign immigrants, was 2.5 million.

For the past two decades, New York’s net population loss as a percentage of population was the highest of the 50 states.

Households that have bolted had average incomes about 22 percent higher than those who relocated to New York; $58,899 versus $48,432. According to the IRS, migrants from New York earned $3.3 billion more than migrants to New York in 2009.

The loss of all these people, Empire Center chief E.J. McMahon has observed, “is the ultimate barometer of New York’s attractiveness as a place to live and do business. It’s the ultimate indication that we’ve been doing things wrong.”

Nassau County, where I live, had a net loss of 3 percent of its population in the last decade. The average income of migrants in 2008-2009 was $67,311, while the average income of new residents from other states was $54,683 – an 18.7 percent drop.

There are a number of reasons why people are fleeing Nassau. First, blue-collar workers have been forced to find employment in other parts of the country due to the huge drop in manufacturing jobs on Long Island. Next, young people, after finishing school, leave the nest to find jobs and affordable housing in states with a lower cost of living. (A recent poll revealed that 36 percent of New Yorkers under 30 planned to leave.) Finally, retirees living on a fixed income are skedaddling to states like Florida, where housing is cheap and taxes are low.

In my neighborhood of New Hyde Park, scores of seniors who bought Cape Cods in the 1970s and paid off their mortgages years ago have put “for sale” signs on their front lawns. Even though the value of their home has dropped since the 2008 crash, they figure they’ll still be way ahead of the game living in Florida. The average Cape Cod house that was worth $500,000 in 2008 may be off 30 percent, but the houses they’re looking at in Florida are off more than 60 percent. Seniors who net $355,000 for their home in New Hyde Park can replicate it in the Sunshine State for $100,000 and live off the $250,000 net proceeds. On top of that, they will have an additional $6,000 a year in disposable income because their annual property taxes will drop from around $8,000 to $2,000.

As long as New York continues to have the highest combined taxes in the nation, expect the stampede of the young and old to continue and for the tax burden to become more onerous on those of us left behind.

The Making of Cardinal O’Brien – By George J. Marlin

January 13, 2012

This article I wrote appeared on The Catholic Thing web site on January 11, 2012.

A brave champion for NY’s faithful – By George J. Marlin

January 7, 2012

This article I wrote appears in the New York Post on January 7, 2012.