IT'S TIME TO DO THE RIGHT THING
School districts on Long Island and elsewhere in the state are facing astronomical tax increases this budget season. Forced to borrow to provide space for growing enrollments while at the same time facing state aid that does not keep pace with the increase in costs, districts are bracing for difficult budget votes on May 21. Here on Long Island matters are even worse with the county talking about a twenty percent tax increase to keep Nassau from falling into bankruptcy caused by decades of fiscal mismanagement. Its getting more and more difficult to finance education with the regressive property tax. The property tax is considered regressive in that the burden of paying it falls equally on taxpayers regardless of their earnings. Thus, two people owning the same model house but whose incomes are thousands of dollars apart, each pays the same property taxes to support the schools and local government. Thats just not fair. Few of our political leaders, however, have the courage to change the way we pay for public services.
On a recent trip to Albany with a group of NEA/New York leaders to lobby for more aid to public education, I had the chance to meet with one of Governor Patakis advisors on education policy. After listening intently as he outlined the difficulty of finding the resources ( politicians never use the "T word") to meet all of the states needs, I suggested that there was a simple way to find the money to meet the needs of New Yorkers. Raise taxes, and raise them more fairly. The Governor, he told me, was not interested in raising taxes. He wanted to lower them. How brave to be for lower taxes at a time when the economy has been hit with the impact of the September 11 tragedy. The Governor knows damn well that there will be a tax increase for most citizens of the state. If the Governor wont do it, school boards and local governments surely will. How much fairer, how much more reasonable to raise the required revenue to provide essential services like schools to the taxpayers of New York through a graduated income tax at the state level.
The tax proposal of the Working Families Party to solve the Nassau County budget crisis suggests what could be accomplished with a sane tax policy. The Working Families Party is advocating a plan that would close the countys gaping budget gap and proposed almost twenty percent (20%) tax increase by a county income tax of one percent (1%) on incomes between $150,000 and $200,000 and two percent (2%) on incomes over $200,000. This would be done in conjunction with a twenty percent (20%) cut in county property taxes. Even people with fairly substantial incomes would get a tax cut under the terms of this proposal. Seniors and those how work but struggle to make ends meet would receive much needed tax relief. The truly rich would be asked to shoulder a fairer portion of the tax burden.
What are the chances such a proposal can be passed? You and I decide that, if we choose to. If you live in Nassau County and are fed up with the tax policies of both major political parties, contact Judy Jacobs, Presiding Officer of the Nassau County Legislature and County Executive Tom Suozzi. If we could make fairer tax policies work here, we just might be able to sell them statewide. The people of New York may be ahead of their cowardly elected officials. They just may be ready to do the right thing.
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