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June 12, 2006

Gubernatorial candidates detail property-tax relief programs

After identifying New York’s escalating property taxes as a top priority for their campaigns, the two leading candidates for governor have detailed plans to relieve taxpayers’ burden and curb tax growth.

Democratic candidate Eliot Spitzer’s plan would increase STAR exemptions for homeowners under a certain income level. The STAR program provides property-tax rebates to homeowners only, so the plan does not address businesses' well-documented concerns about high property taxes.

Spitzer's plan, which he outlined in a speech to the New York Conference of Mayors' annual meeting June 12 in Saratoga Springs, would give homeowners with "middle-class" incomes between $60,000 and $90,000 up to an 80 percent increase in their STAR savings. Exact savings would vary from one region to another. Homeowners with higher incomes would receive smaller savings. Those households earning more than $235,000 would not receive any additional savings under Spitzer’s plan.

"Homeowners eligible for the full benefit under this new 'Middle Class' STAR category will receive an increase of $565 on average statewide," a release from Spitzer's campaign said. "This amount will be generally be higher in areas with higher home values or taxes, in accordance with the mechanics of the existing STAR program."

The campaign's release said the plan would also address "the root causes of high property taxes," but did not give specific details.

The Conference of Mayors also heard from Republican candidate John Faso who reviewed parts of his property-tax relief proposal. Faso's plan, originally outlined in April, would "double STAR exemptions, cap school property taxes, and provide school districts mandate relief," according to a release from Faso's campaign.

Faso's plan would increase the basic STAR exemption from the first $30,000 of property value to the first $60,000. Those increases would be phased in by 25 percent increments each year and after four years exemptions would be tied to the rate of inflation.

Property tax increases would be capped at 4 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is lower, with some exceptions, Faso's campaign said.

Faso’s plan includes mandate reforms that would benefit all property taxpayers, including businesses. For example, his proposal would amend the Triborough Amendment to the state’s Taylor Law. The Triborough Amendment requires that provisions of expired union contracts are binding until a new contract is ratified. This effectively gives unions the upper hand in bargaining and drives up taxpayer-funded costs of public-sector employees' pay and benefits.

Faso said he would also reform the state’s Wicks law, which drives up public construction costs by hundreds of millions of dollars per year. His plan would also: