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Watch New York State to See The Outlines of a Big Republican Con Job

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New York's tax cap flushes out Republican hypocrisy


The lid is coming off one of America's hoariest political scams. For decades Republicans have demonized federal income taxes while imposing crippling property taxes in the vast areas of rural, suburban and exurban America they dominate. By so doing, they have gotten away with talking out of both sides of their faces.

But now communities across New York State, mostly governed by Republican majorities, are screaming about a two percent property tax cap enacted with some Republican support earlier in the year by the state legislature in Albany. They say their communities can't operate that stringently. They want to keep on increasing taxes.

The law, pressed hard by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo [D] and his lieutenants, gives the communities an out. They can grant themselves waivers from the two percent cap if 60 percent if their governing bodies consent. And that's exactly what is happening in some communities.

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The savvy New York Times editorialized against the cap, but many experts in fiscal governance argue that, Draconian as it is, the cap is the only way to compel the efficiencies and reforms necessary to give property owners relief. The worst is yet to come, because most communities don't pay up their school taxes until spring, and school taxes are by far the rocks in the tax load.

New York has no fewer than 10,000 tax-levying entities, and that's part of the problem. The state is plagued with overlap and duplication of services, inefficiencies, nepotism and patronage. It's easy to scapegoat anonymous federal employees in Washington or the federal districts, but it's not so easy to fire somebody you go to church with, somebody who is married to one of your cousins, somebody you went to school with, somebody who rounds up votes for you.

There are communities throughout the state that undoubtedly don't need some of the services they're providing, services that could be consolidated with neighboring communities or with counties. But each of the state's taxing entities is entrenched, having its own traditions, conventions and histories. Reform is painful and often bitter. That's why proponents of the Cuomo Cap think reform has to be rammed down local politicians' throats. Local government is often rife with politicians motivated more by personal bias and grudge than a desire to serve, and it's notoriously difficult to get a community's most qualified people to run for office.

But the larger and more important story is that New York's dilemma-and you wouldn't know this from press accounts-exposes the hypocrisy of bad-mouthing the federal government while inflicting much greater hardships than the federal income tax imposes on hard-pressed property owners who can barely keep their heads above water and are often enough underwater. To raise taxes in communities of empty homes and for sale signs is unsavory business.

Where the Republican Party could be doing something to relieve tax burdens on a middle class that has suffered wage stagnation for decades it is doing little or nothing while blaming Washington-and acting as if it had nothing to do with either the taxes imposed by Washington or the onerous taxes imposed on property owners. The Republicans are about blame, not remedy. And politicians of every stripe are about getting elected, not governing, because no one can govern without compromise.

There are 932 towns in the state. In the Hudson and Mohawk valleys many of them are struggling with massive hurricane damage. Infrastructure is badly deteriorated and hundreds of acres of farmland have been ruined by flooding. It's estimated that as many as a third of the state's communities will waive the tax cap. But that has little to do with the overall problem. Many suburbs and exurbs are unsustainable. Development has been permitted where it should have been limited. Aquifers are endangered and vital services are costing these communities more than their taxpayers can afford. The state is losing both its young and elderly people because they can't pay its spiraling taxes. It has become rare to pass properties on to children and grandchildren, because elderly people living on fixed or even falling income often can't hold on to their homes.

Worse yet, across the country there has been a 53 percent increase in poverty in the suburbs compared to a 26 percent increase in the cities. The cities are accustomed to providing many services that suburbs have never before had to provide, and the suburbs now have to provide them just when they can least afford them. Rich suburbs have become troubled suburbs, and homes in many a new exurb stand empty.

This is the inevitable circumstance of the gasoline and big-box mall society. Few can afford the suburbs now, and the suburbs can hardly afford themselves. It was this predicament that Andrew Cuomo believed had to be addressed, and he believed, with many scholars of government, that only the direst legislation would prompt communities to undertake the reforms needed to make government less burdensome to a scared and harried middle class.

He fired the ball into the Republicans' courts, and they're screaming bloody murder, not only because they know the focus is on corrupt and often failed local government, where they dominate, but because the situation threatens to expose their hypocrisy. Bullets will have to be bitten. Stringencies will have to be imposed, and with the concurrent strictures on patronage and nepotism Republicans will lose some clout in counties across the state. They know it. Andrew Cuomo never said it-he couldn't because he needed Republican support-but he has called their bluff.

Many of the practices among these 10,000 entities and 932 towns need to be re-examined. They need to interact more than sporadically. They need to eliminate redundancies. Much of their current trouble was brought on by reckless overdevelopment that not only endangered the environment but also put additional stresses on taxpayers. Developers told town boards and city councils over and over that the new homes would broaden the tax base, but they didn't. They piled on demands to already overburdened budgets. The new homeowners expected services communities couldn't afford to provide. And town after town simply raised taxes every year while politicians railed against the federal income tax, which oppresses the middle class and offers the rich a smorgasbord of loopholes.

Watch this story unfold. You don't have to depend on local media to cover it. Just enter the search term, New York Tax Cap, in your search engines, and then ask yourself why the media, local and national, are not connecting the dots to give you the big picture: the tawdry ploy of blaming Washington while taxing homeowners into the ground, making hay out of the misery of the deceived.

Djelloul (jeh-lool) Marbrook was born in 1934 in Algiers to a Bedouin father and an American painter. He grew up in Brooklyn, West Islip and Manhattan, New York, where he attended Dwight Preparatory School and Columbia. He then served in the U.S. Navy.


Djelloul Marbrook

His book of poems, Far From Algiers, won the Stan and Tom Wick Poetry Prize from Kent State University in 2007 and was published in 2008. His story, Artists Hill, adapted from the second novel of an unpublished trilogy, won the Literal Latte first prize in fiction in 2008. His poems have been published in The American Poetry Review, Barrow Street, poemeleon, The Same, and other journals. The pioneering e-book publisher, Online Originals (UK), published his novella, Alice MIller's Room, in 1999.

He worked as a reporter for The Providence Journal and as an editor for The Elmira (NY) Star-Gazette, The Baltimore Sun, The Winston-Salem Journal & Sentinel and The Washington Star. Later he worked as executive editor of four small dailies in northeast Ohio and two medium-size dailies in northern New Jersey.

Del's book, Far From Algiers   New review of Far from Algiers
Artists Hill, Literal Latte fiction first prize
Djelloul Marbrook Blog
His mother's art: www.juanitaguccione.com   His aunt's art: www.irenericepereira.com

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