People on Buffalo's streets were excited Wednesday to learn that state lawmakers have agreed to massive tax cuts -- even rebates.
But in Albany, where all 212 lawmakers face voters in November, the mood was downright giddy.
They know that in an election year, there's nothing quite like being able to tell voters that tax cuts are coming -- simple medicine to help them forget years of increases in taxes and fees.
And what happens next year?
The State Legislature's own team of economists recently warned that the state could see troubled economic waters, putting a strain on the new tax cuts. The cuts, if Gov. George E. Pataki agrees, would occur while state spending grows at a rate more than double the rate of inflation.
Wednesday, though, was a day for counting tax cuts, not worrying about the future.
The cuts reduce taxes for property owners, parents with children between the ages of 4 and 17, purchasers of clothing, senior citizens, married taxpayers, National Guard members on active duty, real estate investors, farmers and even people who go to amusement parks.
"I know it's election season, and they're trying to get votes," said Lisann Hansen, 26, a Springville stay-at-home mother interviewed in downtown Buffalo as her 4-year-old daughter, Gwyneth, nibbled on a hot dog for lunch.
"But they're on the right track," added Hansen, who said that some of the money from the tax cuts could help her pay for remodeling work on her home.
"I could use that money," said Natasha Gault, 35, a Buffalo single mother thrilled to hear that three of her four children could qualify under the plan for a school-age tax credit of up to $330 per child.
How will she use the money?
"Pay bills, buy clothes and try to deal with my deficit."
The biggest chunk of the tax-cut package would provide a direct cash rebate for an estimated 3.3 million to 3.7 million payers of property tax. It is the first time officials can remember this kind of rebate check going out to so many New York State residents. The checks would total $805 million this year and range from $82 to $822, state officials estimate.
The checks would arrive in mailboxes in October -- within weeks of Election Day.
While the state Tax Department will mail out the checks, lawmakers were privately joking that they would try to find ways to get their signature or photographs on the checks.
But insiders were already expecting mailings from lawmakers to magically appear at about the same time the checks arrive.
"The perfect gimmick," said E.J. McMahon, director of the Empire Center for New York State Policy, a conservative think tank. "It's a vote-purchasing device."
Payers of property tax will receive a check worth 30 percent of the value of their STAR property tax credit, based on their school tax figure from 2005. The average rebate check in Erie County would be $168; and for senior citizens, $252. In Niagara County, the average would be $210; and for senior citizens, $300.
Besides political capital for election-bound lawmakers, McMahon said, the rebate would provide an excuse for school districts to raise taxes higher this year because they would try to show the rebate checks as a subtraction to property tax bills.
Voters were not immune to the notion that Albany's tax-cut motivations were not entirely fiscal -- and that these cuts would lead to future tax increases.
"Whatever they're cutting, they're taking it from somewhere else," said Debbie Weaver of Kenmore, an M&T Bank program analyst. ". . . They're not making the hard choices. They're just moving around the money, and the taxpayers are going to end up paying for it."
But Jim Bandinelli, an M&T auditor who lives in North Tonawanda, is looking forward to tax cuts easing some of his burdens.
"It's about time we got a little relief from New York State," said Bandinelli, who as a father of four children would qualify for the child tax credit. "I am 100 percent for anybody who cuts taxes."
"The Senate has held out a long time for tax relief, in particular the crushing burden of upstate property taxes," said State Sen. George D. Maziarz, R-Newfane, who represents the district where Bandinelli lives.
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