Editorial: Albany stumbles on reassessment

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The Nassau County real property tax assessment system is so complex that even experts get confused, and New York’s Senate Democrats, even the ones from Nassau, mostly aren’t experts.

So putting a plan in their State Senate budget proposal to help the county with its reassessment troubles without consulting experts, or even county officials, was a lousy idea.

“I have requested more supporting information in order to better understand the bill,” Nassau Executive Laura Curran said in a statement last week, pointing out that the county was not consulted before the lawmakers hastily rushed a scheme to have all of New York State soften the blow to Nassau residents whose property taxes might rise. And she might actually benefit from such a plan.

Curran, a Democrat, is trying to muscle through an accurate assessment roll. Her predecessor, Republican Edward Mangano, froze the roll and began granting automatic assessment reductions to nearly anyone who appealed for them in 2011. The freeze created a huge and unfair imbalance, as those who grieved their taxes each year saw their taxes reduced further and further below what they owed, and those who did not grieve saw their taxes increased further and further above what they owed. A Newsday investigation pegged the shift at $1.7 billion.

But Curran says an immediate change to everyone paying exactly what they owe around the same time the new $10,000 federal limit on deductions for state and local income and property taxes hits would destabilize the county and its real estate market. Instead, she asked the State Legislature to approve a five-year phase-in to slow the increase of the burden for those who’ve been underpaying and the decrease for those who’ve been overpaying. That move is in the proposed budgets of both the Senate and Assembly and has the support of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. But even with that phase-in, the reassessment has enraged many homeowners projected to get an increase, and Curran’s Republican opposition has been quick to pander to those fears.

Enter several Nassau County’s Democratic senators and their conference leaders. They were looking to snag some suburban voter love after staying silent as the Amazon deal fell apart and failing to use their leverage to get the Assembly to agree to a permanent property tax cap. Instead, they lost even more credibility. Their plan would slow even further the rate at which those underpaying see increases, by using county sales taxes and a 3-to-1 match from the state to grant this relief. Yet it would do nothing to speed the decreases for those who will continue to overpay.

State budget director Robert Mujica, who states every other minute that there is not enough money in the pot for health care, education and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, said of the plan, “There is no funding for Nassau’s tax assessment.” Besides, the New York City-centric Assembly would never agree to send another $200 million to one of the richest counties in the United States.

And lastly, how long will it have taken non-Nassau lawmakers to remember that the county got a $100 million state bailout in 2000 to fix the very same problem that remains unfixed two decades later?

Published by Newsday, March 18, 2019

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