The recent political chatter about “Obamacare” before the Supreme Court of the United States got a great deal of media attention. President Obama added fuel to the fire when he declared, “Ultimately, I am confident the Supreme Court will not take what would be an unprecedented, extraordinary step of overturning a law that was passed by a strong majority of a democratically elected Congress.”
For someone who was a law professor those words were absurd. Even if a bill passed unanimously in the house and senate, it could still be overturned – if the law was in violation of the Constitution.
Giving up is not “reform.” County Executive Ed Mangano’s proposal to transfer property assessment from the county to the towns might possibly speed up assessment decisions by replacing one large and overwhelmed bureaucracy with several somewhat smaller ones. It will likely recreate problems that were major motivations in creating our highly centralized county government 75 years ago.
The 1938 county charter merged the town Boards of Assessors and the County Board of Equalization, ending three decades of complaints, lawsuits and hard feelings about the lack of specific, uniform levels of property assessments between the towns. In a tax system screaming out for simplification, clarification and a sense of certainty, spinning off assessments to the towns will reintroduce “equalization” as an annual issue. Tens of thousands of residents are still trying to figure out why their assessment went down but their tax bill still went up. The division of taxes heading up the tax food chain in an equitable manner is the most complex subject in local government, and it’s all going to make people very sad, particularly in villages and school districts that are split between townships.
Manhattan District Attorney (D.A.) Robert Morgenthau was facing a spirited Democratic primary challenge from a former judge in 2005, but his opponent had trouble finding anything substantively negative to say about Morgenthau.
The reason I know this: a city-based tabloid newspaper reporter called me weeks before the election, asking whether it was legal to have a Manhattan driver’s license while at the same time registering and insuring a car in Dutchess County, where auto insurance premiums are much lower. The answer: yes, so long as the insured vehicle is primarily garaged in Dutchess County. I was the director of public affairs for the New York State Insurance Department at the time and knew immediately the question pertained to Morgenthau because he met those criteria.
Written by Michael A. Miller, email@example.com Saturday, 09 November 2013 00:00
Have you ever contributed $5,000 to a political campaign? How about $10,000? Are people and partnerships and committees and businesses who make contributions like that, bless them, representative of the typical resident of this county? Are their priorities the same? Their motivations? Their expectations?
As of 11 days before Election Day, the campaign committees of County Executive Ed Mangano and former County Executive Tom Suozzi had raised $10.718 million during this campaign cycle, and 50.8 percent of it, just over half, was raised in contributions of $5,000 or more. $3.25 million of it came from contributions of $10,000 or more. Those 187 checks of $10K or more averaged $17,407.
According to Newsday, the portion of the property tax bill that goes to the county government increased by $220 a year for the average household due to the 2003 and 2009 tax rate increases we’ve heard so much about this campaign season. Even if the home of a $10K contributor had a valuation of 10 times the average, or 20 times, how big a concern can county property tax bills be to those who fund these campaigns?
For many of us, the taxes on which local governments most rely, property taxes and sales taxes, hurt the most, because they do not represent any relationship to actual wealth or the ability to pay.
In 2009, the last year for which our state government makes full statistics available (releasing the information faster would be tattling), the 43,876 full-year residents of Nassau County reporting state taxable income of at least $200,000 earned more than the 600,773 filers who made under $200,000 ($23 billion to $21 billion). The 10,191 residents reporting state taxable incomes of $500,000 or more earned significantly more than the 501,111 filers reporting incomes of less than $100,000 ($14.5 billion to $10.3 billion). That was at the height of post-2008 losses, from which most very high-income earners have fully recovered.
The people for whom local taxes are an extreme and growing burden, and the people who get to personally inform politicians about what they want, need and expect from local government are increasingly two different groups of people.
Most people entering politics have trouble asking people for campaign contributions. It’s a hard and humiliating thing to do for most well-adjusted people, but I know something that’s harder: Taking a check for $17,407 from someone and then telling them something they don’t want to hear.
And that’s how we end up with these dreary, insipid, lowest-common-denominator, meat-free campaigns in which very, very little is settled, proven, verified or affirmed by public balloting. In case you were away, here is all you need to know about the campaigns for Nassau County Executive for most of September and October: “He raised the debt.” “No, he raised the debt.”
We all raised the debt, because we have an unsustainable system of local public finance made worse by an economic situation that is far beyond the county government’s control no matter who is elected, and this is only going to get worse if we do nothing. Some choices are more unpleasant than others, some are fairer than others, some might give this county a fighting chance to thrive in a future that looks bleaker and bleaker for many suburban communities across this country.
Simply averting a crisis does not mean anything is fixed. I don’t just mean fixing finances. We can’t run governments in 2014 using playbooks from 1974.
If we’re not going to actually try to fix anything, then we need to begin a strategic retreat and disengagement, salvaging the most important functions and services before we lose room to maneuver and unpleasant choices are made for us.