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THE LATEST SHOT AT HOMEOWNERS

8/1/98

When the public passed the 98/99 school budget in May, they were given to understand that the money necessary to fund the budget would result in a tax increase of $2.13 per $100 of assessed valuation.  Now that the so-called "base proportion" ( the formula by which it is determined how much of the necessary tax levy to fund the budget will come from owners of residential homes and how much from businesses) has been changed to shift more of the tax burden to homeowners, residents will be surprised when they get their tax bills to find that the $2.13 they thought they voted for has become $3.45.  Most will wrongly assume that the Board of Education has pulled a fast one and arbitrarily decided to increase their taxes.  They will not understand that not one penny more will come to the schools than they voted for in May.  Their extra tax increase is nothing more than a present to powerful business interests who use their political muscle to influence the way in which schools are funded.

The trend in recent years to make the inherently regressive property tax more regressive by shifting more of the burden on to homeowners is but the latest example of the foolishness of financing public schools the way we do.   Consider the following example which is by no means unusual.  Each resident of Plainview-Old Bethpage will immediately think of real names to substitute for this hypothetical example.  Two families, one with a total family income of $150,000 and the other with family earnings of $65,000, live side by side in identical houses.   Under the current system, their tax contributions to financing the schools is identical.  There is absolutely no consideration of the extreme difference in their ability to pay, with the family earning $65,000 contributing a much greater proportion of their income to the property tax than the other.

The current system of financing schools predominately from the property tax is not only unfair, it contributes significantly to poisoning the political environment of local school districts.  Think about our hypothetical homeowner who earns $65,000, and lets further assume, as is often the case these days in America, that his family income has remained fairly stagnant for some time while his neighbor's has grown beyond increases in in taxes and inflation, not an unusual set of circumstances.  As the former's property taxes grow his lifestyle changes, his income remaining essentially fixed.  Yet, around him, his neighbors appear to flourish despite the tax increases, their incomes continuing to grow.  When our less fortunate homeowner votes 'NO' on the local school budget or comes to a board of education meeting to protest against "out of control" school expenditures, is he, as he is often seen, a cold hearted, mean-spirited person who doesn't care about children?  I suspect that he often isn't.  He is often complaining about the unfairness of the formula for financing public schools that has him paying as much as those who earn many times more than he.

The time has come to end the unfair way by which we finance public schools in New York.  The PCT has long favored using the more progressive income tax to raise money for education.  A tax system that that does not consider an individual's ability, burdens many unnecessarily and promotes bad social policy.  If you are interested in working for a fairer way to finance education, the PCT would like to hear from you.  

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