Last week, I attended Gov. George Pataki’s presentation of his executive budget in which he outlined his priorities for the upcoming fiscal year. He also made it clear that this budget is no different from previous years because many difficult choices must be made.
I know from my local travels that the constituents of the 129th Assembly District are mostly concerned about one thing: property taxes. Everyone I talk to – whether a farmer, senior citizen or elected official – tells me that something must be done to curb property taxes.
In "Excelsior 2005," the Assembly minority conference’s legislative agenda for this year, we, much like the governor, have outlined the need for tax relief. While our means of achieving tax relief vary, it is important to me to note that the outcome would be the same – relief for overburdened, overtaxed property owners and taxpayers.
The governor proposed:
- Creating the SPUR (Strategic Partnership for Upstate Resurgence) Program: SPUR is a comprehensive job-creation and economic-growth initiative. Included in this plan is the creation of the SPUR tax credit, a tax credit for new or emerging businesses affiliated with the Centers for Excellence; the establishment of Agri-business Empire Zones; as well as the creation of $100 million in grants to SPUR communities. The SPUR initiative is an innovative plan that has the potential to be very good for Finger Lakes communities.
- Capping local Medicaid costs at 2005 level: In some counties, Medicaid spending went up over 10 percent last year. Numbers like that cannot be predicted. The governor proposed capping a county’s share of Medicaid expenses at its current level until 2007. In 2008, the state would completely take over Medicaid. This would provide immediate relief to counties and their property taxpayers. Medicaid is the most expensive program funded by property taxes. The Assembly minority conference has proposed programs as well that involve a state takeover of Medicaid. The governor’s proposal is a step in the right direction, but there is still much more to come.
- Introduction of Co-STAR, a property tax relief program: Gov. Pataki introduced the Co-STAR plan to provide further property tax relief to counties that adhere to modest spending increases. Co-STAR provides a $100 rebate in 2006 and a $200 rebate in 2007 to each taxpayer whose county government keeps new spending growth to 3.5 percent in 2006 and 3 percent in 2007. Initially a minority conference initiative, I am pleased to see this in the governor’s budget.
- Ensuring that a quality, free education is available to New York’s children: Gov. Pataki proposed several education policies, including a restructuring of the school aid formula to allow school districts greater flexibility, an initiative to make school construction simpler, as well as an innovative plan to increase student accountability. Our students are our future, and I am glad to see that the governor has prioritized education.
- Reforming SUNY tuition and increasing SUNY funding: Gov. Pataki also announced an innovative plan to keep tuition the same for college students once they begin school. When a student starts at a SUNY school, that year’s tuition amount would remain the same for the four years of undergraduate study. In addition, the governor proposed an $86 million increase in funding for SUNY statewide. It is encouraging to know that the governor is also working to make college more affordable for all those who wish to attend.
- Increasing aid to fiscally responsible cities, towns and villages by $164 million: Our localities have been shouldering such an incredible burden in the past. Now it is time for the state to help manage those responsibilities. This money would be given to taxpayers in counties that demonstrate fiscal restraint by keeping spending increases to 3.5 percent. This would benefit taxpayers two ways: by restraining spending, property taxes would be kept in check; by increasing aid to cities, new programs can be funded and/or taxes lowered. This proposal would save money for all New Yorkers.
The bottom line is that we have work to do. We are definitely not out of the woods yet, but Gov. Pataki has laid out a blueprint for the Legislature to follow. Now we must work together to issue a fiscal plan that will make New York a better place to live and do business.