Thursday, December 18, 2008

School Board should Fight for Real Tax Reform

What a mess our antiquated tax system has put upon our heads. People have been up in arms about high property taxes in New York, and then our state's unbalanced economy crashes because of a dependence on Wall Street "productivity" to sustain itself - or, I should say, to sustain the state's tax revenues. Now a governor that was pondering relief of those taxes is going to have to slash state aid to local governments and programs, including schools.

In truth, I never liked the property tax cap plan. You don't solve the problem by not letting school districts spend more money, even if things get more expensive. If you watch the New Paltz school board meetings, you'll quickly realize that much of what the district pays for is controlled by state mandates or ironclad union contracts over which they have little control (and which themselves are certainly worthy of a post). Controlling spending is definitely a good plan if you want to reduce taxes, but this is like reducing your kid's allowance by a buck a week but expecting him to pay for more expensive lunches anyway.

What I would like to see our local school board do is make a stink about the medieval system of taxation they're forced to follow - land has not been a useful measure of wealth for a couple of centuries, after all. David Dukler and friends should rally districts around the state to throw down the property tax system altogether, and replace it with something more equitable. Education is the responsibility of all of us, and should be paid for by all of us. We've heard louder and louder grousing about high taxes for years, and it's the job of our elected representatives to make sure Albany is really listening.

I'm terrified that as a senior citizen I'm going to want to vote down school budgets because I want to stay in my home, and that's a pretty crappy place to be. Governor Paterson's plan, though, is more than a bit shortsighted, and I'd like to see better.


Terence said...

I've heard feedback that this post isn't accepting comments. This post is a test to check that out.

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Brittany Turner said...

Thanks for fixing the problem Terence!

On January 7, 2009, the Hudson Valley Area Labor Federation will be joining our partners for a massive budget rally in Albany coinciding with Governor Paterson... Read More’s “State of the State” address. It is being organized by the NYS AFL-CIO, CSEA, NYSNA and others in protest of the drastic cuts to critical services across NYS in the Governor's proposed budget. There will be a number of buses leaving from the Hudson Valley, graciously sponsored by CSEA in conjunction with the HVALF. Bus locations include Rockland, Ulster, Orange and Dutchess counties, as well as our office at IBT 445, 15 Stone Castle Rd. in Rock Tavern, NY.
The rally is expected to draw thousands from across NYS, and we will be gathering at the Times Union center upon our arrival. There will be vendors, information tables and live music, followed by a march and rally at the NYS Capital. Please call 845-567-7760 to reserve your seat!

Terence said...

From Steve Greenfield, who was being given fits by Blogger:

I lowered school taxes by 1% from what the voters themselves had approved within two months of taking office, over the objection of the Superintendent and the Board President and Vice President. I voted for the cut (twice, because of the procedural mix-up), and I persuaded Patrick to be the fourth vote when the chips were down. I also intervened to prevent drastic overspending on fixing the dangerous septic leakage at Duzine, saving a quarter of a million dollars on that one project, and in succeeding in that effort provided our Facilities Director, Steve Callahan, with sufficient information on the engineering of NYCSD septic systems that when the High School septic system failed shortly thereafter, he was able to fix it in-house for almost nothing -- saving the taxpayers another $250-500,000 dollars. There's a video record of all of it. Now we're facing huge budget cuts and it's lucky for our capital fund that we didn't waste that money.

I've had one-on-one meetings with both Kevin Cahill and John Bonacic to discuss the property tax and budget cuts crises. Both helped to block the mid-year cuts Paterson was recommending last month. Cahill is sponsoring a bill that would end the property tax -- the one I supported during my campaign. I have appealed to the public to support his bill. I was the architect of the board's decision to challenge the Crossroads DEIS, which as proposed would have blown our taxes sky-high -- a project that took at least 50 hours to complete, not including board meeting time. I also supported the adoption of two more recent letters to the Governor and other key legislators to oppose tax transfers to school boards and the issuing of new unfunded mandates. I also spent four days at the convention of the New York State School Boards Association, our lobbying wing in Albany, and participated in generating new legislative activity in that framework, as well as taking classes in how to do more on that front. I also networked with board members from other districts in our region to explore forming a Mid-Hudson-specific advocacy union, a process still under discussion that may bear fruit next year. Another of my campaign promises was to get a NYSERDA inspection and proposal for cost-saving (read: tax-lowering) energy improvements to be made at a net profit to the school budget. That NYSERDA inspection is under way right now. My term is only five months old.

If you have any further questions, please attend the January 7th board meeting at the high school, 7 PM for public comment. The board is about to vote to redirect its Middle School renovation evaluation funding to an unrelated project. Your presence is urgently needed if we are to have any hope of preventing this.

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Brittany Turner said...

Apparently the world would stop turning without Greenfield's assistance.

Teri said...

This is directed at the owners of this blog and its commentors:

It's one thing to allow anonymous comments. It's quite another to allow (unsupported) personal attacks and sniping - that's quite uncivilized. One out of seven school board members can't "get the freaken" anything done, certainly not in less than 6 months; but he sure has made an effort. How many of you know that Steve's first action on the school board was to save you more than $300,000? Did you know about the time Steve was sworn in, the school board was going to entirely replace the septic system at Duzine, for nearly half a million dollars, without even knowing what was wrong with it? And that because of Steve's insistence, the facilities committee set up a diagnostic evaluation and was able to solve the problem with the existing system for well under $100,000?

I'm Steve's wife and you can check my facts. Anyone making snide comments with no factual support shouldn't be posting on this blog, and its owners shouldn't be allowing it. Steve is trying very hard to cut expenses for everyone. School districts all over the state are losing millions of dollars this year - if you expect one person to turn that around then you're not being realistic. If you don't really expect that but you found an excuse to lash out at Steve then go to your room for a time out.

What started out as an attempt to discuss a very real problem of how schools are funded turned into an attack party against one guy whose whole life is about community service. You may not like him personally, but you should respect that.

Teri Gil

Terence said...

I agree with Teri, and I'm disappointed that folks feel the need to comment in a cowardly manner. I'll remove the comments and look into making another admin for the blog so that it can be done again if more folks act so poorly.

Steve Greenfield said...

Yesterday I posted a comment to this blog that was in response to several personal attacks against me by people who declared that I've been totally inactive on the matter of school taxes. Now that those anonymous attacks have been removed, my post appears, out of its original context, to be something I would not have done on my own, that is, to post a list of my achievements and work schedule. But so it goes. Now I am posting my original reply to Terence and kt, which I sent to them personally on December 19th. I hope it provides useful background on why it's so frustrating when there is near-universal agreement in principle on a topic by citizens and legislators alike, yet nothing is ever done to enact policy that reflects that consensus. Here goes:

Hardly anyone involved in schooling likes the property tax. I made the advocacy Terence seeks part of my campaign, and it resonated well with the public. Almost everyone wants the whole thing to be eliminated, including everyone on the New Paltz School Board and our superintendent, provided some means of local autonomy can be preserved. Cahill has a bill languishing right now that would do that. The new omnibus bill that eases into an end to property tax passing through several phases of circuit breakers would supplant the original Cahill bill. NYSSBA takes a strong position against the property tax. But this has been a key issue for educators and their advocates for a really long time, and nothing ever happens.

In the current state budget crisis, you're starting to get a glimpse of why, although it's always been an underlying part of our strange way of electing people to office. Essentially, no matter how many different forms they take (income, excise, user fee, property, payroll, sales, etc.), there are only two kinds of taxes -- "ours" and "theirs." It is almost impossible to get a majority of any particular taxing entity to take one of "theirs" and turn it into one of "ours" even if the total coming out of most people's wallets can be shown to actually go down as a result. It leaves you defenseless against "Assemblyman Doe voted for the largest income tax increase in the history of New York State" when you run for reelection. By the same token, if you want to build a reputation as a tax cutter, all you have to do is turn "ours" into "theirs," and no matter how much upheaval and interruption of services is caused, and no matter how much the transfer costs the taxpayer, you are able to claim you cut taxes. And the best part of that is, when someone runs against you next year and says "Assemblyman Roe caused your schools to cancel 12 classes, 15 after-school clubs, and increase class size to 43 students, as well as causing your town's parks and libraries to cut down their hours by half, and your highway department ran out of salt in the first week of February," Assemblyman Roe's party-mates in your town, getting started in politics by running for School Board and Town Board, are able to yell even louder, "Greenfield cancelled programs, increased class size, and raised your property taxes by 12%!" "Hokanson couldn't keep the highway department in salt, and we've been skidding off the roads since the first week of February!" Later that day, Assemblyman Roe hits the airwaves with his declaration that he was a cosponsor of the biggest tax cut in state history, and/or balanced the budget during a crisis, blah, blah, blah.

In other words, there is almost nobody holding office who is actually putting sound policy first. In most cases that's not out of malice (although in some cases it is, like if you're part of the Fox Network or advancing a fundamentalist religious agenda), but out of having to act rationally (for job security, without which one cannot legislate at all) within an irrational system -- that requires that the outcome be irrational acts. The only people working on pure policy are in the think tanks, not in office, and if you look around, you'll have a hard time finding anyone in a think tank, regardless of left, center, or right, who thinks the property tax is a keen idea. But we can't end the property tax without action by both houses and the governor. But they have no motive to do it, and they have major motive to keep shifting more and more out of "their" and into "our." And since we're towns and schools, the law requires that we take it out of property. If we were a county, sales tax would be a source, but if we raise that, everyone will shop in Orange and Dutchess, and the Chamber of Commerce will be all over your sorry ass until you've been voted out of office. It's totally effed up.

You can repeat all of the above for crime legislation and budgets in states, and the military budgets at the federal level. You have great majorities of legislators on both sides of the aisle deliberately implementing budget-busting, economy-devastating, and socially regressive policies and allocations no matter how much harm they cause and no many studies prove they don't even deliver what they're supposed to buy (lower crime, greater national security, whatever). Don't forget the prison population of this country doubled during the overly-romanticized Clinton years, most of it for marijuana, and now all of those people are out of jail, unemployed, and with a prison record. Why is recidivism so high? Duh, I dunno, don't ask me, I'm "tough on crime." The federal treasury has been rendered bankrupt and deeply in debt by military spending, which also keeps a huge and constant inflationary pressure on the private economy and lowers available credit in the private sector that forces the Federal Reserve to wage a battle against inflation by lowering the money supply (which depresses private spending and investment and applies steady recessionary pressure), and we haven't exactly purchased military success with all that money, but if you ask anyone responsible, including the mistakenly-much-beloved-by-peaceniks Maurice Hinchey (he saved the B-2 bomber when the Air Force itself was trying to cancel it), why exactly this is all happening, it's I dunno, don't ask me, I'm "tough on communism AND tough on terrorism!" None of it makes any sense because it can't. The system won't allow it.

That having been said, there actually are a few people here and there who think property taxes provide "stability" and should not be fully discarded. However, with the current state of the housing market, as well as the increasing number of towns that foolishly become dependent upon a single major commercial property source that goes bankrupt, leaves town, or successfully petitions courts for major decreases in assessment (see Marlboro this year -- ouch!), the "stability" proponents aren't winning new believers.

Do I think there's hope? Sure I do. There's been a lot more public discourse and legislative movement on this issue in the last year than in the decade leading up to it. This is the best time to start raising the pressure level with our legislators. I have no more influence over them than any other citizen. Sure, I can send them a letter or make an appointment to visit -- but so can all of you. Get in touch with your legislators and tell them you want the school property tax ended. Log onto and see if you can find a few activities you'd like to take on.


Brittany Turner said...

Steve, you wouldn't normally post a list of your achievements and work schedule? Funny, it's all I've been hearing from you for years...