Guest Column: Leslie Danks Burke Nails Tax Reform

“Our Senator should work at cutting property taxes” SCHUYLER COUNTY, July 26 — If you’re a homeowner in Schuyler County, odds are you pay a lot in property taxes. How would you like to cut 33% off that tax bill? Or 56% off your property tax bill in Steuben? Or a whopping 89% in Chemung?

I’m running for State Senate because we need a practical solution to Albany’s long-time problem of pulling way too much in taxes away from the five counties in this district, without giving us our fair share back.

Consider these two stark facts:

One: New York State’s crushing property taxes are the highest in the U.S.

Two: New York is the only state in the nation that passes its Medicaid costs down to county

That’s not a coincidence.

Here’s a little background. Medicaid is a federal program that provides health insurance to people who can’t afford medical care.

Medicaid was created because if basic care isn’t covered, the cost of crisis management skyrockets fast and taxpayers pick up the tab. Sick people who do not go to a doctor often end up in the emergency room where treatment is the most expensive.

In 2013, over 4,000 people in Schuyler County, some of them your family, friends and neighbors, depended on Medicaid for access to medical care. They include over 1,000 children, often kids whose parents are employed at low-paying jobs. It’s morally right and financially smart to make sure those children and their families can get to the doctor when they need to. But even though Medicaid is a federal program, federal taxes only pay for half of it.

The other half is picked up by each state.

And here’s where New York is different from every other state. Albany only pays part of its half and sends a bill for the rest to

the counties. As a result, a massive percentage of your county property taxes and mine

go into a pot that pays for Medicaid in New York State.

In real numbers, this staggering cost is $25 million from Chemung County’s budget,

$20 million from Steuben, $3.6 million from Schuyler. When you add up the amount

that all the upstate counties pay into Medicaid, everyone outside NYC is paying $2.2

And it’s a regressive tax, meaning it hits regular folks much harder than it hits

billionaires. Remember, this is for a program designed to help low-income people.

But here’s the really interesting part: The entire State budget is $149 billion. This $2.2

billion — paid in other states by state income taxes, not by regressive county property

taxes — is less than 1.5% of the entire New York budget. In other words, in order to

make up one-and-a-half percent at the state level, New York makes Schuyler County

residents pay 33% higher property taxes.

Surely, just like the other 49 states in the U.S., New York State should be able to find

the meagre 1.5% in its own budget to pay its Medicaid bill instead of passing it on to

our property taxes.

The Medicaid mandate is not a new problem and I’m not the first person to point this

out. Local elected officials of every persuasion have been exasperated for years. And

the leader we send to Albany, our State Senator, should get to work on it. Instead,

Albany just shrugs its shoulders and sends us the bill.

It’s time to send a new leader to Albany with the political will to find 1.5%

somewhere in the state budget to replace a massive property tax that punishes

taxpayers in small counties like ours. Every dollar that Albany forces us to spend on

property taxes shortchanges the things our counties provide — our schools, our

bridges, our roads. And this regressive tax hits family budgets hard, especially if

you’re on a fixed income. Our people and our counties can’t afford Albany’s tax

mandates anymore. Let’s get to work.

Leslie Danks Burke is running for State Senate in New York’s 58th district, which

includes Schuyler, Chemung, Steuben, Yates, and part of Tompkins counties.

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