Assemblywoman Galef Presses for Passage of Circuit Breaker for Property Tax Relief

Press conference at constituent homes shows how plan will target individual needs
August 14, 2008
Assemblywoman Galef speaks to Ossining homeowner Matt Gullotta.
Assemblywoman Sandy Galef held a pair of press conferences today to discuss her circuit breaker legislation that would limit the amount of residential property taxes an individual pays based on their annual income.

The press conferences took place at two different taxpayers’ homes in Galef’s district. The one in Ossining, at the home of Matthew and Cinthia Gullotta, was attended by William M. Mooney, President and Dorothy T. Forcina, Managing Director of the Westchester County Association and Carole Kraus of the New York State Property Tax Reform Coalition. Kraus also attended the later conference in Garrison at the home of Joseph Missale.

“Property taxes have been skyrocketing at alarming rates over the past few years,” said Galef. “This circuit breaker program correlates your income to your tax burden, instead of only reflecting your income like the current middle income rebate program does. The circuit breaker will help residents right here in my district meet their tax obligations and will establish greater equity for all taxpayers across the state. This will help to keep New Yorkers in our state and attract new residents to New York”

The legislation, A.1575B sponsored by Galef, and a similar bill sponsored by S.1053C Senator Elizabeth Little, would establish a cap on the maximum real property tax paid by New Yorkers who have a household adjusted gross income of $250,000 or less. Homeowners would receive an income tax credit equal to 70 percent of the taxes paid over an allowed percentage cap. (The Senate version calls for capping the credit at $5,000 per household.)

“I’m continuing to push for a multi-pronged approach to property tax relief, including a circuit breaker,” said Senator Little. “This is obviously a complex problem and it’s not enough to promise relief without enacting reform. I am confident that working in a bipartisan way with Assemblywoman Galef we can reach an agreement on a circuit breaker bill that will deliver relief for our families while also finding common ground on other reforms that ensure a balanced approach.”

A recently released poll conducted by the Siena Research Institute found that 75% of New Yorkers polled statewide were in support of the circuit breaker, which would ensure that property taxes do not exceed a certain percentage of a homeowner’s income.

In the circuit breaker bill, qualifying homeowners would receive a personal income tax credit of 70% of real property taxes paid in excess of a scaled percentage cap of their household income. Income qualification would be: (1) Downstate suburbs, including Nassau, Suffolk, Rockland, Westchester, Putnam, Orange and Dutchess Counties and New York City: less than $120,000 household adjusted gross income tax 6 percent of household income; $120,000 to $175,000 at 7 percent cap; and $175,000 to $250,000 at 8 percent cap; (2) Upstate: less than $90,000 at 6 percent cap; $90,000 to $150,000 at 7 percent cap; and $150,000 to $250,000 at 8 percent cap. Income qualification is as currently defined through the Middle-Income STAR Rebate program.

Bill Mooney said: “The Westchester County Association is pleased to support Assemblywoman Galef in her on-going efforts to provide property tax relief. No issue is more important to the future economic health of New York State than meaningful property tax reform. The Circuit Breaker initiative proposed by Assemblywoman Galef is a progressive idea that can be an important component in an overall program of tax reform. New York’s unenviable position as the highest taxed state in the nation clearly points to the need for reform. To fail to act now will only lead to continued erosion of the state’s economic base and will force many residents to move to lower cost areas. Obviously, those trends are unacceptable and threaten the state’s economic viability. Sandy Galef has taken a leadership position on this critically important and highly challenging issue and we urge that others lend their support to her Circuit Breaker initiative.”

Carole Kraus, local leader Hudson Valley property tax reform and member of New York State Property Tax Reform Coalition, said, “Thousands of New Yorkers support the proposed tax levy cap as one part of the relief equation. Even more support circuit breaker legislation. Everyone should realize that the tax levy cap is intended to control future growth. It will not reduce anyone's property tax. For homeowners paying outrageous percentages of their income in property tax, the modest, middle-income circuit breaker – along the lines of the Galef-Little bill – is the most cost-effective way to provide relief to New Yorkers who risk being forced from their homes.”

The Fiscal Policy Institute is also in support of a circuit breaker. Frank Mauro, Executive Director of the Institute said: “The Middle Class STAR rebate program is better targeted than the original STAR exemption program in that it takes income into consideration. But it is still not adequately targeted to be an effective and efficient property tax relief mechanism since it does not take the size of a homeowner’s property tax bill into consideration and it is still based on county and school district averages of important variables. A circuit breaker like the one proposed by Assemblywoman Sandy Galef and Senator Elizabeth Little would address both of these shortcomings.” According to the Fiscal Policy Institute, the mean benefit for upstate and downstate homeowners would be $1,135 and $2,397, respectively.

NYSUT, the statewide teachers’ union organization, also recently came out in support of circuit breakers as a solution to the property tax problem. “A circuit breaker protects taxpayers from a property tax ‘overload’ just like an electric circuit breaker by essentially ‘capping’ an individual household’s property taxes as a percentage of their income,” wrote Alan Lubin, Executive Vice President of NYSUT, in a letter to Assemblywoman Galef.

Joe Missale, Putnam homeowner and retiree, said, “Back in 2001 this program would not have benefited me. Because of the 50%-60% increase in school and municipal taxes over the past several years, even though my income has only increased 15%, this program would now benefit me because I would get back $500 more with it. The increase in my income has clearly not matched the increase in my taxes. Something like the circuit breaker has to be done to help taxpayers, particularly seniors on fixed incomes. It gets to the point where you’re spending 35% of your income in taxes. That’s why I believe what Sandy’s proposal is a good thing.”

Robert McKeon-Director of Trend NY, commented, “When New Yorkers say they want their taxes capped, they mean all their taxes. Only a circuit breaker like the one Sandy Galef has spear headed will accomplish that.”

Matt Gullotta, Ossining homeowner, said: “I am on permanent disability and my wife is recovering from a broken neck. Due to these unexpected medical conditions, our income has been greatly curtailed. When I reviewed my property tax bills, it was clear that the proposed circuit breaker proposal would provide significant relief for my family, and thereby greatly enhance our quality of life by freeing up more of our income. The circuit breaker would provide relief for families when things that cannot be controlled happen to them.”

In a questionnaire sent out by Galef’s office, 80% of respondents felt that what they paid in property taxes when compared to their household income was unfair and 65% of respondents felt the circuit breaker legislation would give them more relief than what they currently receive from STAR. Additionally, the circuit breaker proposal was the most favored out of a list of potential property tax solutions.

Some of the comments from constituents who support the circuit breaker follow: Frank from Putnam Valley, said, “In both [2004 and 2005] more than 25% of our income went to taxes.” Elizabeth from Ossining, said, “My school and town taxes this year were $13,442.41. My income for 2007 was $77,883- a huge percent just to stay in my home!” Alan from Carmel said, “24% of our income is spent on property taxes, forcing us to work at age 75 to make ends meet and even that doesn’t do it.” His wife Betty said, “I have to work at 76 years old to pay our taxes – only cars and trucks can be re-tired.”

For more information on the press conference, please contact Dana Levenberg in Assemblywoman Galef’s office at (914) 941-1111 or levenbergd@assembly.state.ny.us.