Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Wrong Target

The unseating of Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi raises this interesting question:   Why is it that county government so often seems to be the focus of discussion and criticism of high property taxes?

We thought this might be peculiar to Monroe County, but it seems evident in Nassau County as well, and, therefore, seems likely to prevail elsewhere.

The Nassau County Executive vote may have to do more with voters' higher trust in Republicans than Democrats on the issue of taxes.   Nevertheless, why is it in relation to county government that the issue seems to resonate?

In Nassau, (as The New York Times points out in today's sour editorial), county property tax accounts for only 16% of property taxes collected.   Here in Monroe its about the same.   It's the school taxes, of course that comprise the whopping portion of the tax bill:   over 60% in Nassau County, even more here in Monroe.

Part of it has to be fallout from ordinary partisan give-and-take.   The minority party in any county, whether Democrats or Republicans, will criticize for high property taxes the majority it seeks to displace  --  conveniently omitting that county government accounts for less than one-fifth of the tax bill.

The mechanics of paying property tax in New York has been set up deliberately to diffuse responsibility for the biggest component of the tax.   It's not by accident that school taxes are aggregated together with city, county, and town taxes in the same bill.   Or that the property tax is paid at town halls, or at City Hall.

Anything to obscure the lines of responsibility for sky-high property taxes.   Anything to conceal as much as possible the cause-and-effect.

What else do you expect when the lobby spending the most in Albany each year is the Teachers' Union?   Remember that New York has only the superficial trappings of democratic government.   This is the key to understanding the New York Problem.   New York, in substance and operation, has an aristocratic form of government, with a public-sector labor aristocracy supported by the population outside the aristocratic class.

Another cause of misplaced focus on county government in regard to property tax derives from reporting on the subject.   A county or town property tax increase that's trivial gets front-page treatment.   School tax hikes routinely exceeding the rate of inflation are treated as  ...  routine. Dog-bites-man stuff.

These represent some of the reasons why it's county government in New York that seems so often to be the focus of property tax discussion.   Together with the understanding of most voters that they have some actual control over their town and county governments.   Something New York's meticulously-crafted Third World-style school budget elections don't allow.

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