We all benefit from the state Forest Preserve in the Adirondack and Catskill parks, and we should all be willing to pay our fair share of taxes to the local communities that are home to them.
We benefit by our own personal use of millions of acres of state-owned forever wild land by being able to access it for hiking, fishing and other forms of outdoor recreation.
We benefit collectively from having a clean environment unspoiled by industry and housing.
And we benefit financially as state taxpayers from the tourism dollars that flow into the state budget through economic development and sales tax revenue generated by the 16 million people who visit the parks every year.
For the local towns, counties and school districts that are home to all of this state-owned land, the property taxes paid by the state of New York are essential to their survival.
Without this revenue, the tax burden would be passed on to a small number of private-property owners and businesses who all are required to pay their fair share of property tax to live there.
In some communities, state-owned land makes up a significant portion of the local property tax rolls, in some cases 50 to 90 percent.
For those communities, a decrease in state tax payments could be devastating, and perhaps fatal, to their survival.
So New Yorkers need to rise up against a proposal in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s executive budget that would eliminate the state’s regular tax payments on the forever wild portion of Forest Preserve land and substitute it for a payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT).
The plan would cap annual payment increases at 2 percent, or the rate of inflation, whichever is less.
Under the plan, counties and other government entities would potentially lose millions of dollars in annual tax revenue.
By switching to a PILOT agreement, the state would not be subject to local property assessments and essentially could determine for itself how much it wanted to pay on the land it owns.
The state currently pays about $70 million a year in taxes on the forever wild land it owns.
That sounds like a lot of money until you consider we’re talking about hundreds of thousands of acres of land and the fact that the payments make up just 7-one-thousandths of a percent of the state budget.
State taxpayers’ obligation to help support the small communities that host forever wild land in the Adirondack and Catskill parks with full taxes goes back to 1885, more than 130 years.
It’s the price we’ve all agreed to pay to have these amazing national resources available to us and to future generations.
And it’s an obligation we must continue to uphold.