State taxes have to be cut, but government must be responsive to vital needs - The Buffalo News

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State taxes have to be cut, but government must be responsive to vital needs

There are as many ideas as there are legislators on the subject of the best way to give taxpayers a break next year, with a state budget surplus looming.

In fact, Albany has already prepared a pre-election gift for families with children, having approved a tax rebate for them to be paid just before Election Day in 2014.

Now Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, seeing that a budget surplus is in the making and having empaneled a special commission to recommend how to lower the tax burden in New York, is looking to enact an additional $2 billion in tax breaks.

It’s important work, and it must be balanced against the real needs of New York’s less-fortunate residents. Also, it needs to be structured to make a lasting difference to the state’s economy. But there can be no doubt that tax relief in the nation’s highest-taxed state is crucial to attracting the employers who hire New Yorkers and produce new taxable income.

Cuomo insists, not unreasonably, on using half that $2 billion for property tax relief. Thus, among the proposals is a tax credit for homeowners called a circuit breaker. It would lower the amount that several million New Yorkers pay in state income tax if their property tax bill exceeds a certain percentage of their income. Exactly what that percentage is has not been spelled out, one of many details we need to know more about.

Other ideas include raising the dollar threshold before a state tax applies to estates – to $5.2 million from the current range of $1 million to $5.2 million – and phasing out a tax on utilities, which gets passed along to consumers. That tax is already due to end in 2018 and would end in 2014 for industrial customers.

The package also calls for cutting the income tax on corporations to 6.5 percent, from 7.1 percent, and to 2.5 percent for upstate companies.

Critics from the left and right are lobbing grenades at the plan and it may, in fact, benefit from some further consideration. But the notion, forwarded by some, that no tax break should be considered in favor of putting the money into education is wrong.

It’s true that education needs attention in New York, but New Yorkers already pay one of the highest per-pupil costs in the nation. Something other than more money is obviously needed.

Other areas may deserve increased attention, including housing for severely disabled New Yorkers. It is important, as state revenues finally recover, to remember those who are in greatest need in this state.

Politically, it’s hard to believe that the state won’t expand the 2014 rebates already approved for certain families with children. It’s risky to give money only to some people, and politicians love the idea of greasing taxpayers’ palms just before Election Day.

Cuomo will make his budget address next month, so his decisions are probably made, at least for the initial presentation of the 2014-15 spending plan. That those plans are certain to include some kind of tax relief is good news. The next question is, what kind?

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