The state Legislature’s mixed bag for Long Island – By George J. Marlin
The following appears in the July 10-16, 2015 issue of the Long Island Business News:
The indictments of the state Legislature’s top honchos, Assemblyman Sheldon Silver and Senator Dean Skelos, haven’t changed Albany for the better. At the end of the legislative session it was business as usual. Before calling it quits for the year, there was last minute horse trading, bundles of bills passed unread and legislators who rolled over dead for the three men in the room—the governor, the speaker and the senate majority leader—in return for crumbs from their table.
As for legislation that affects Long Island, it’s a mixed bag. Here are some highlights: An approved bill that increases oversight of Industrial Development Agencies has been sent to the governor’s desk and hopefully he signs it into law.
The law would require each IDA to develop a standard application form and to create policies that would trigger the suspension of tax breaks in the form of PILOTS—payments in lieu of property taxes—if a business is not achieving its job creation goals.
Praising the legislation, state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli said, “By increasing scrutiny of IDA project applications and requiring project agreements to include the recapture of job creations that are not met we can address many of the concerns raised in audits by my office over the years.”
While the legislation is far from perfect and will not eliminate political cronyism from the decision making process of Long Island’s IDAs, at least tax breaks can be stopped when it becomes evident that a particular deal is a bad one.
Nassau County managed to get its sales tax renewed without dedicating part of that revenue stream to the favored projects of legislators. The County, which is projecting GAAP budget deficits as far as the eye can see, needs every dime it can get from the sales tax, particularly since those revenues have been falling short of rosy projections.
The 2 percent cap on property tax levies—first enacted in 2011—was extended for four more years. (Opponents led by the teachers’ unions prevented the cap from being made permanent.) The extension of the cap was important because it’s an Albany reform that has actually worked. An analysis by the Empire Center has revealed “that school property taxes have grown at an average annual rate of 2.2 percent per year in the four years since the cap was created, down from 6 percent per year in the thirty years prior.” The decline in tax increases during the life of the tax cap have saved New Yorkers thus far about $7.6 billion.
There are, however, two new exemptions to the Cap that the special interests were able to get into the renewal legislation: payments made to BOCES—Board of Cooperative Educational Services—that provides school districts with shared educational services—and PILOTS paid by local business developments.
One fiscal boondoggle Long Island legislators happily embraced was the four-year $3.0 billion property tax rebate. That program is not a property tax cut for struggling homeowners but merely income redistribution. The state takes tax revenues from taxpayer A and gives it to taxpayer B. And, surprise surprise, the first rebate check will not arrive in the mail until several weeks before the November 2016 election.
The tax rebate does nothing to stop our ever increasing property taxes and does not deal with a prime mover for increased municipal expenditures, unfunded state mandates.
On other fronts, the governor and legislators surrendered to political pressure from the left. That World War II relic, rent control—which is responsible for the lack of affordable apartments in the New York metropolitan region—was extended for another four years. The tax credit program Governor Cuomo promised Cardinal Timothy Dolan to help out parents paying parochial school tuition was once again killed.
Overall, this year’s legislative session was similar to past years; lots of hype over lackluster accomplishments.