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COMMENTARY: Cuomo's pack of tax cut gimmickry



E.J Mcmahon of the Empire Center for Public Policy writes:

"Gov. Cuomo has just been handed a decidedly mixed bag of tax-reduction recommendations — combining pro-growth business-tax cuts with a gimmicky “property-tax relief” package that would deliver virtually no economic bang for the buck.

On the plus side, the Cuomo-appointed commission co-chaired by ex- Gov. George Pataki and ex-Comptroller Carl McCall called for reform of what it called New York’s “largely outdated and extremely complex” corporate tax code, including a merger of the corporate and bank taxes, and for a cut in the top corporate rate, from 7.1 percent to 6.5 percent.

The commission — one of two Cuomo asked to come up with tax-policy options — also recommended cutting New York’s top estate-tax rate and raising the taxable estate threshold to match the federal estate-tax level. The Empire State would remain one of a very few jurisdictions still imposing any death tax, but it would at least take a smaller bite out of fewer estates.

However, as all but demanded by Cuomo, the Pataki-McCall panel also recommended “property-tax relief based on an individual homeowner’s ability to pay,” which would most likely be accomplished through an income-tax credit. This wouldn’t be a tax cut but a tax shift — a subsidy for some homeowners, financed mainly by state taxpayers.

You’d never know it from listening to the governor, but New York already spends $3.5 billion — real money, even by Albany standards — on the School Tax Relief (STAR) program. And thanks to Cuomo himself, state law now tightly caps the growth in property taxes at a maximum of 2 percent, with some limited allowances for special local factors. With inflation falling, the cap’s starting point for local governments next year will be around 1.7 percent.

Nonetheless, the commission also proposes a temporary, state-financed two-year freeze of residential property taxes in jurisdictions outside New York City that stay under their caps.

In the first year, eligible homeowners would get a tax rebate equal to their property-tax increase. In the second, the rebate would go only to homeowners in “jurisdictions that abide by the property-tax cap . . . [and] take meaningful concrete steps toward finding permanent structural savings by sharing services with other jurisdictions or consolidating governments in their entirety.”

But how would homeowners — most of whom pay taxes to at least three different levels of local government — even know if they’re eligible for the rebate? And how would state government decide which local governments and schools are taking “meaningful concrete steps” toward saving money by merging or consolidating? Administering this thing would be a real headache.

And how about New York City, which isn’t subject to Cuomo’s tax cap? Creating some convoluted separate program to ensure “fair” treatment of renters as well as property owners in the city will add to the estimated $1 billion price-tag for the commission’s property-tax recommendations.

By far the biggest shortcoming of the Pataki-McCall report was its failure to take a stronger position on the future of the state’s biggest source of revenue, the personal income tax, or PIT.

It was just two years ago this month that Cuomo reneged on his previous anti-tax hike pledge and got the Legislature to extend, as an “emergency” budget-gap closer, a 29 percent tax increase on incomes starting at $1 million. Due to expire at the end of 2014, the “millionaire tax” was extended for three more years under the state budget enacted this year.

The tax raises about $2.5 billion a year, roughly $700 million of which has been redistributed to middle-income households in the form of small tax cuts — which are also temporary, as is a provision linking all of the PIT brackets to inflation.

At this point, New York’s income tax has more loose ends than a cheap sweater — which hardly sends a reassuring signal to any business or individual trying to plan a future in the state.

At Pataki’s urging, the commission report at least includes a tepid call for the top PIT rate to “reset back to 6.85 percent in 2018 . . . as scheduled in order to further strengthen New York’s economic climate.” But Cuomo has yet to make any public comment on the issue — and if he moves forward with the property-tax subsidies recommended by the same panel, he’ll tie down at least $1 billion in scarce revenues that would be needed to make the PIT more competitive again.

Cuomo claimed he wanted ideas for reshaping the tax code to improve the state economy. What he got seems more designed to bolster his re-election margin.

E.J. McMahon is president of the Empire Center for Public Policy, Inc.


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Topics : Business_Finance
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Locations : New YorkNew York City
People : Carl McCallCuomoE.J. McMahonGeorge Pataki
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