By Kathy Hochul
Western New Yorkers are finally getting some relief – not from the excessive heat and rains of this summer. But rather, property tax relief. In the final hours of the legislative session, Gov. Andrew Cuomo fought for (and won) a progressive property tax rebate that benefits the homeowners who need it most. As a result, working families will receive a tax rebate check to let them keep more of their hard-earned dollars in their pockets and spend in their communities.
As recently as 2010, Cattaraugus, Niagara, Erie and Chautauqua counties were all among the top 15 highest-taxed counties in the nation as a percentage of home value. This was simply an unsustainable path – something had to be done. New York’s high property taxes were driving people toward lower-tax states. Having a governor who finally understood this, property taxes have been capped, frozen and cut.
The governor and Legislature first established the property tax cap in 2011. The result has truly been remarkable. In the third year, voters passed cap-compliant budgets in over 97 percent of all school districts. In fact, Western New York has experienced the slowest property tax growth in the entire state.
Since the cap, Erie County property taxpayers have seen their annual growth rate slashed by nearly 50 percent – saving more than $800 per household on average. Under the governor’s leadership, the cap was just renewed.
Next, we enacted a $1.5 billion property tax freeze program – strongly advocated by the governor to incentivize local governments and school districts to seek efficiencies and share services, resulting in real savings for New York taxpayers – an average of $656 through 2016.
And finally, under the tax rebate plan just adopted, all eligible upstate taxpayers will receive on average $185 next year.
As long as school districts comply with the property tax cap, which they have done in overwhelming numbers, homeowners will benefit.
The governor has said New York has no future as the tax capital of the country. He’s right. I witness on a daily basis the challenges of encouraging businesses to come and grow here in our state. Similarly, we need to create a friendlier environment for existing businesses so they resist the lure of lower-tax states.
Now that the dark days (years) of plants closing, jobs evaporating and residents fleeing are finally over, we need to be vigilant to ensure that our community’s amazing transformation continues.
Reducing the tax burden for everyday Western New Yorkers and encouraging real fiscal discipline is another example of the governor’s commitment to our region. And as a proud Buffalonian, I know the best is yet to come.
Kathy Hochul is lieutenant governor of New York.