Editorial: State tax cap won’t save us

Now we get to see how shortsighted the state’s 2 percent tax cap really is.

Back in the spring, the governor and state Legislature couldn’t stop patting themselves on the back for taking the bold step of requiring local taxing jurisdictions to limit annual tax rate hikes to 2 percent. Eureka! Our financial problems are solved!

Well, not quite.

Lots of political hay was made up in Albany for the simple step of telling someone else what to do. But how do we meet that requirement? Hey, that’s your problem.

Who wouldn’t be happy knowing that their property tax bill will never rise more than 2 percent each year? While they’re at it, why doesn’t the Legislature say the MTA can’t slap a payroll tax on communities with practically no public transportation service? Why doesn’t it pass a law saying gasoline and home heating oil prices can’t jump more than 2 percent per annum? How about the cost of electrical service or Internet access?

Did it matter to the lawmakers that Southold’s contract with its non-police civil service employees includes raises of 4 percent next year, the same percentage given this year? Keep in mind, though, that the employees agreed to a pay freeze in 2009, the year the impacts of the 2008 economic collapse hit hard. Most of the town budget goes for salaries and most of the salary expense goes for the police. But the town can only guess at the salary structure for the next police contract, which will be decided by a state arbitration board. That panel is not, however, required to limit pay raises to 2 percent or less.

How’s this for irony: The Albany powers-that-be who made such a show of the need for mandate relief have instead saddled local towns, villages and schools with the ultimate unfunded mandate. The bill’s preamble might as well have said, “This state has no concern whatsoever for any unavoidable hike in fixed expenses — be they salaries, heat, power, materials or contracted services — you down there in government closest to the people may face. If it falls upon you to consider staffing reductions or service cuts to meet a completely arbitrary, but politically expedient, goal then so be it. Our hands are clean.”

When times are tough there’s nothing like conscientious, concerned and caring leadership. And with this tax cap what we got is nothing like conscientious, concerned and caring leadership.