Above top, Oswego Mayor Billy Barlow shakes hands with Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul during Hochul's speech at city hall, where she took aim at federal tax policy and touted Gov. Andrew Cuomo's fiscal plan

Lieutenant Governor talks CNY, DRI in address at Oswego city hall

OSWEGO — Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul on Wednesday urged a crowd gathered at Oswego city hall to rally behind permanent installation of a 2 percent property tax cap, a measure Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said could affect whether or not he signs a state budget come April 1.

The governor’s office reported earlier in the year that the 2 percent tax cap, first instituted in 2012, has saved New Yorkers $25 billion in taxes over the last 6 years. 

Hochul, on the road statewide to pump the Cuomo administration’s “tax fairness” message, pointed to $1.2 billion put back in the pockets of taxpayers in the central New York region as a result of the cap.

Despite the current tax cap deal expiring next year, analysts from Cuomo’s office estimate six million filers will have saved $4.2 billion by the year 2025 if it is kept in place.

In an exclusive interview with The Palladium-Times before her presentation, Hochul called effort “critically important” and spoke to the successes in Oswego and the central New York region of the tax cap’s temporary adoption.

“We only have a couple of weeks before the budget is due and the governor has made it very clear that we believe this tax cap has been successful,” Hochul said. “In fact, the average homeowner in Oswego County has saved over $1,500 in taxes. We believe is critically important to have it and whether or not it becomes a final sticking point remains to be determined.”

In light of reports indicating friction between the proposed budgets of the state Assembly and Senate and the governor’s office, Hochul said the main intent of tax cap permanence is to give taxpayers certainty.

“All we are asking for is for (the state Legislature) to give homeowners, businesses and senior citizens the certainty of knowing what their tax rate will be going forward because property taxes are the highest taxes you pay in the state,” Hochul said. “We don't know whether this will be problematic in the next couple of weeks, and we hope not, but the governor has been very clear. This is a line in the sand he has drawn to make sure we get (the tax cap) in the budget.”

The New York State Association of Counties (NYSAC) has shown opposition to the measure by saying permanent adoption could prevent local governments from drawing needed revenue from taxpayers at a time when the state is implementing new unpaid mandates.

“County government elected officials have long supported lowering property taxes — not just slowing the growth,” said NYSAC Executive Director Stephen Acquario in a release, adding that the governor’s proposed budget would likely impose nearly $200 million in new mandates for counties.  

“The fact is that the state now owns any increases in local property taxes, as these increases are not caused by the actions at the local level,” Acquario said.

Acquario also pointed to increased costs connected to implementing early voting and forcing counties to absorb Aid and Incentives to Municipalities (AIM) costs from towns and villages that would have otherwise seen AIM funding evaporate.

While the budgets proposed by the Assembly and Senate do restore AIM state funds, Hochul spoke during her presentation to the relief funds the state could provide through other avenues. 

An example Hochul provided was encouraging localities to find ways to share services.

“Any communities, find ways to work together and reduce your costs and we'll match it for you,” she said.

Hochul said the state has provided funds so that localities like Oswego can keep important sources of economic development, highlighting the nuclear power industry in the county. 

“We understand the stresses (localities) are under, but we are also able to funnel significant dollars to communities,” she said, pointing to $10 million dollars the state has pumped into Oswego projects as part of the Downtown Revitalization Initiative (DRI). “We have a multifaceted approach to infusing money into communities to help them offset their tax burden.”

While a permanent tax cap might face political opposition during upcoming budget negotiations, the governor’s office goal remains firm on its commitment, Hochul said.

“People need to understand that Gov. Cuomo and I are going to continue fighting to reduce the tax burden on our constituents and not everyone is going be happy with that position,” Hochul said, “...The typical family, sitting at a dinner table trying to figure out how much money they have for their kids' education, or how much they'll have for retirement, or senior citizens on a fixed income, or a business that is doing the calculation as to whether or not the taxes are going to keep going up and they may have to go to another state altogether, we are watching out for those people. So it is not always politically popular, but we are going to stand with the constituents of the state of New York and do right by them.” 

When asked about the changes a new blue wave in Albany has caused, Hochul said the legislative term has been productive.

“We are actually getting a lot done,” Hochul said, pointing to voting reform that would unify primary dates and allow for early voting in the state. 

"We broke through the log jam and said ‘let's be smart about this,’ so we have two voting reforms, more rights for women protecting reproductive health, we have done more to protect the environment and we have been trying to help reduce the cost for homeowners" she said. "I think we are on a good trajectory right now, and the budget is always complicated, but we are committed to make sure that we get it done and giving people the certainty that they need to have.” 

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