While this page has almost always favored the use of property taxes over sales taxes to raise money for local services, we’ve also felt that the municipalities where the taxes get levied should be the ones that decide whether to levy them and by how much.
That’s certainly how it works for property taxes. But when it comes to sales taxes, locals have always needed the state’s permission via home-rule legislation; and even once they get it, they need it to be renewed every two years. “A waste of time,” Sen. Hugh Farley correctly called it in a Gazette story Thursday, though he was indeed one of the local legislators who in recent years refused to sponsor home-rule bills to allow constituents to raise sales taxes to deal with budget crises.
As Thursday’s story indicated, Gov. Andrew Cuomo tried changing the rule this year, to give localities the right to tweak their sales taxes as they see fit. The Senate went along with the provision, which was contained in the governor’s budget bill, but the Assembly quietly removed it, so it’s dead.
Too bad — not because we want counties raising their sales taxes (which are regressive, and thus less attractive than property or income taxes, which have at least some relation to relative wealth); but because we feel they should have the right to when confronted by a severe revenue shortfall. That’s truer now than before the state’s tax cap came along. With it in place, municipalities can’t even raise property taxes beyond 2 percent (except for small allowances regarding pension payment hikes).
That means they have virtually no option but to cut, slash and chop when their budgets are pinched. People lose jobs and valuable services get eliminated, or so compromised that they have little value.
Maybe state lawmakers’ position on this would be acceptable if they were ever in a similar situation themselves. But they can raise taxes, borrow and use various accounting tricks as they see fit. In short, they don’t have to answer to anyone but voters. Why shouldn’t it be the same at the local level?