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Gov. Andrew Cuomo delivering the 2014-15 Executive Budget Address. Photo: Gov. Cuomo's office via <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/governorandrewcuomo/12075674644/sizes/z/in/set-72157640020641724/">Flickr</a>
Gov. Andrew Cuomo delivering the 2014-15 Executive Budget Address. Photo: Gov. Cuomo's office via Flickr

Do NYS counties have a better property tax cut plan than Cuomo?

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Gov. Andrew Cuomo is starting a new push for the property tax freeze plan he outlined in his state budget address this January. Meanwhile, counties in the state say they have a better idea, which they say could result in lower property taxes in New York for even longer.

Cuomo's campaign is aimed at enlisting the aid of the public to help convince the legislature to approve the plan.

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Reported by

Karen DeWitt
NYS Capitol Correspondent

A video features average homeowners and advocacy groups endorsing his plan.

"Lower our property taxes," say various people identified as homeowners and standing in front of suburban-looking homes.

The Governor's proposal hinges on local governments, schools, even water and library districts, agreeing to limit spending growth to two percent a year, and to consolidate some services. Here's how Cuomo described it in the budget address (full transcript of the speech here):

Homeowners will be eligible for the property tax freeze if one, the local government stays within the 2% cap, so it is an incentive for the locality to stay within the cap. But number two, the local government implements an approved plan to save at least 1% a year for three years and a total of 3% reduction in cost. So what this really then lays out is a five year plan. Year one, there will be a freeze if the local government lives within the cap. Year two, the state will credit to a freeze if the local government puts in a plan to save 1% per year for three years. And then year three they would save 1%, year four 2%, year five 3%. These would be county wide shared services for consolidation plans which would save in the aggregate 1% per year of the total tax levy, not the operating budget, the total tax levy for three years.

Cuomo has argued that now that the state has cut spending, it's time for local governments to reduce costs and consolidate. He made his points most recently at a budget presentation in Niagara Falls.

"Size matters in government, more employees, that's how the political system works. I get it," Cuomo said. "We can't afford it anymore. And the local governments are going to have to find a way to do business in a different way."

The counties' plan

The New York Association of Counties, in a new report, says Cuomo's plan is "complex," and would require a new tax bureaucracy to administer the plan. They also think it would be confusing and not be very "transparent" for taxpayers.

What we're saying, from the regional government level, is that there are other ways to do this.
The Association's Steve Aquario says counties have a simpler idea for "permanent and more meaningful property tax reduction." He says the state could participate in consolidations, too, and take over a larger share of the counties' portion of Medicaid, which represents fixed health care costs that they say they can't always control.

"Look, if you just picked up the local share of Medicaid expenditures, $2 billion," Aquario said, "We could cut the property taxes in half, permanently."

Aquario says the state could also more easily rein in rising Medicaid costs. He says when state officials took over the growth in Medicaid spending from counties a few years ago, the average yearly increase dropped from eight percent to three percent. The counties say the state could also help out with costs for pre-kindergarten special education, and public defender expenses.

Aquario admits those plans would require a longer-term commitment from the state than the governor's two year freeze proposal.

The counties' plan does not include a rebate check to voters in the fall, but Aquario says if the state wants to reimburse any savings from a Medicaid takeover by sending out checks, counties don't have a problem with that.

Aquario stops short, though, of ascribing election year motives to the governor's plan: "Some can say it's a political move, I understand that, but I think others can say it's a legitimate public policy issue that needs to be addressed," Aquario said. "What we're saying, from the regional government level, is that there are other ways to do this."

The counties' ideas for cutting taxes would not apply to school districts, which make up for a higher percentage of the average homeowners tax bill.

Aquario says county leaders, as well as other local government leaders, will be lobbying members of the legislature, in the weeks leading up to the state budget deadline.

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