Major wins on tax relief

At the start of 2015, I detailed several priorities that I would be concentrating on during the legislative session. One of the top concerns was property tax relief. I am pleased to report several wins, both during the closing days of session and earlier in the year, which will make a substantial difference and provide real help for New Yorkers.

One of the largest property tax relief programs in state history was approved at the end of session. STAR-eligible homeowners throughout the state will be eligible for $3.1 billion in new property tax rebates over the next four years, starting in 2016. When the new rebates are combined with the existing tax freeze check planned for next year, a total of $900 million in property tax relief checks will be sent – an average of approximately $350 per eligible homeowner statewide. In 2019-2020, this new tax relief will be fully phased in and a total of $1.3 billion will be issued to taxpayers.

Speaking of STAR, it was the senate that worked extremely hard to ensure that nearly $3.4 billion would be part of this year’s budget to help fully fund STAR and Enhanced STAR. These outstanding programs deliver significant tax relief to millions of middle class families and senior citizens each year. Without the state funding, property tax bills would spike for those least able to afford such an increase.

My senate colleagues and I were also successful in extending the highly effective property tax cap that has already saved taxpayers $7.6 billion over the past four years. The cap had been set to expire in 2016-2017 but will now be extended to 2019-2020, bringing certainty to taxpayers and businesses. While the tax cap extension is a victory, I will say that I would have rather seen it made permanent and I will continue the fight on that front.

I also worked extremely hard to increase education funding – which helps keep property taxes in check and, just as importantly, ensures our local schools have the resources need to offer students a quality education.

A total of $23.5 billion is earmarked for education representing a $1.4 billion increase from last year. The new funding is an increase of hundreds of millions of dollars above what the governor proposed and will be fairly and equitably distributed throughout the state. A large portion of the increase will be used to make a dramatic reduction in the Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA) which has plagued local schools ever since it was first enacted over my objection in 2010. This year’s budget reduces what remains of the GEA cuts by nearly 60 percent with an eye toward full elimination next year.

It is also important to note that even with the education funding increase, overall state spending growth was below two percent for a fifth consecutive year. Sound fiscal management from the state level on down sends a message that New York is committed to economic policies that make sense. That is a message that helps spark economic development and job growth.

Along with keeping taxes and state spending in check, my Republican senate colleagues and I also served as a firewall, blocking a wide array of legislative proposals that would have done real damage to recent improvements to our business climate.

New tax increases, heavy-handed regulations, and ample hoops for business owners to jump through were concocted and put forward throughout the year. Stopping these troublesome schemes is just as important as advancing helpful initiatives.

While there is certainly still work to be done, it is evident that we are moving in the right direction. A record high 7.8 million New Yorkers are now at work in the private sector, statewide unemployment is at a nearly seven-year low, and 139,300 jobs have been created since this time last year. These are winning statistics and the newly adopted tax relief strategy will only add to our success.

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