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How Suozzi says NY could lower property taxes

Rep. Tom Suozzi and masked onlookers
Office of Rep. Tom Suozzi
Rep. Tom Suozzi (right) at an August press conference.

To lower New York’s average property tax bill, Rep. Tom Suozzi says he would loosen state regulations on counties and direct more funding to struggling school districts if elected the state’s next governor.

Suozzi, a Democrat, is seeking to be chosen as his party’s nominee for governor in next year’s election, challenging current Gov. Kathy Hochul and NYC Public Advocate Jumaane Williams.

Speaking on New York NOW, Suozzi said he would seek to convert state-mandated regulations on counties into guidelines, giving them the choice to enforce those ideas at their discretion.

“We can’t have the state government saying, ‘you have to do it this way, you have to do it that way.’ It drives the cost up and they don’t give you the money to do it,” Suozzi said.

So-called unfunded mandates have been a point of contention in recent history between the state and many of its counties, which have repeatedly called for more funding to comply with those requirements.

It’s a game of math for counties. If the state doesn’t send enough aid for local officials to enforce those requirements, they have to make it up somewhere else. That could include new revenue, like higher property tax bills, or cuts elsewhere in their budgets.

Counties pick up the tab for several state-imposed requirements, like a share of Medicaid benefits, retirement benefits for public employees, and more.

When the state Legislature reimagined New York’s criminal justice system two years ago to set shorter deadlines for local prosecutors, for example, lawmakers didn’t provide any additional funding for municipalities to comply with those new laws.

But Suozzi also argued that, aside from more flexibility with mandates, the state should inject more funding into New York’s struggling school districts, namely those which wrestle to build a budget based on property taxes.

For some districts, property taxes can be a reliable source of revenue. Districts with wealthier residents can often pack their coffers with local revenue alone, while low-income districts tend to rely more on state aid.

That means that, for districts that don’t receive enough state aid to meet their costs, property taxes are often how municipalities make up that gap. Suozzi said it should be the other way around.

“We need the state aid from the state to increase,” Suozzi said. “We have to use it to try and drive down property taxes for people.”

In other words, the more state aid a struggling school district receives, the less it has to raise in property taxes to balance its budget.

The issue hits home for Suozzi. He represents part of Long Island, where average property tax bills remain among the highest in the country, according to the Tax Foundation, a right-leaning policy and research organization.

New York has the ninth-highest average property tax bill in the country, according to research from WalletHub, a consumer reporting website.