State Assemblywoman Teresa Sayward is right on the money when she says the state shouldn't have approval authority every time a county wants to raise its sales tax. This is a common-sense, nonpartisan, home-rule matter that's relevant statewide, especially now under the new property tax cap. We hope lawmakers in both the Assembly and Senate, in both parties, see the light and set things right.
In 2008, after Indiana instituted property tax reform, that state raised the state sales tax to compensate. New York's local property tax cap, on the other hand, has been an unfunded mandate. It's good in that it puts serious pressure on local governments to cut spending. Property taxes are painfully high in many parts of this state. Also, the assessed market value of one's property doesn't correspond with one's ability to pay the way sales and income taxes do, so property taxes are inherently less fair.
Therefore, if a county adjusts its formula to rely a little more on sales taxes and less on property taxes, that's an improvement.
That's what Essex County is trying to do, but it keeps getting blocked.
Essex County's bid to raise its sales tax one-quarter of 1 percent has been hung up in Albany since 2010. State officials aren't refusing it because it would be bad for Essex County; they probably don't much know or care what kind of revenue Essex County needs to provide its people with acceptable services at acceptable tax rates. They're just pulling a blanket, unthinking, "no new taxes of any kind" move. The thing is, Essex County is only trying to bring its sales tax rate up from 3.75 to 4 percent, which neighboring Franklin and Clinton counties already have (on top of the state's 4 percent).
As Assemblywoman Sayward told the Enterprise last week, it would make sense for the Legislature to set a statewide sales tax cap - we suggest 9 percent, just over New York City's state-topping 8 and 7/8 percent - but beyond that, there's no good reason for Albany to get in the way of home rule in this case.
It may seem strange to hope for a sales tax hike, but we're not, exactly. We hope for an end to an unnecessary obstacle to counties managing their own financial affairs.
Meanwhile, to show you how much they vary, here are the current sales tax rates everywhere in New York, courtesy of the state Department of Taxation.
SALES TAXES IN NEW YORK COUNTIES
All rates are given as percentages
For Bronx, Brooklyn, Kings (Brooklyn), Manhattan, New York (Manhattan), Queens, Richmond (Staten Island) and Staten Island, see New York City
* Rates in these jurisdictions include 3/8 percent imposed for the benefit of the Metropolitan Commuter Transportation District.
|*Dutchess||8.125 (8 and 1/8)|
|*Nassau||8.625 (8 and 5/8)|
|*New York City||8.875 (8 and 7/8)|
|*Orange||8.125 (8 and 1/8)|
|*Putnam||8.375 (8 and 3/8)|
|*Rockland||8.375 (8 and 3/8)|
|*Suffolk||8.625 (8 and 5/8)|
|*Westchester||7.375 (7 and 3/8)|
|-except||8.375 (8 and 3/8) in *Mount Vernon (city), *New Rochelle (city), *White Plains (city) and *Yonkers (city)|
(Editor's note: This article has been corrected to reflect that Essex County's bid to increase its sales tax has been hung up in Albany since 2010, not "for years.")