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EDITORIAL: State should fund vets' tax breaks

EDITORIAL: State should fund vets' tax breaks

Lawmakers take credit for breaks while putting tough decisions on local districts
EDITORIAL: State should fund vets' tax breaks
State Capitol Building in Albany.
Photographer: Peter R. Barber/Staff Photographer

You ever see someone, for instance, slip on a banana peel?

And rather than offer sympathy or help, you just say to yourself, “Wow, glad that’s not me.”

Well, if you’re a member of the state Legislature, you’re looking at school districts struggling with whether to grant tax breaks for veterans while balancing their budgets, and you’re saying to yourself:

“Wow. Glad that’s not me. ... I probably shouldn’t have put that banana peel there.”

The Schenectady city school district is the latest local government entity to be put in this position, and other districts are facing the same dilemma.

They want to honor the veterans who’ve served our nation by giving them a little break on their taxes. But they’re also struggling to provide students with a basic education, along with all the services and tools kids need to succeed.

All the while, they’re doing it with limited funds under a strict state tax cap.

They know that if they provide the tax break, even one that returns only a few dollars to veterans, it would be helpful.

But in the back of their minds, they’re probably also thinking that if they grant this modest tax break to veterans, then other worthy groups may also come to them asking for a break. If veterans are deserving, how about volunteer firefighters or emergency squad members or police? How about people who help out at soup kitchens or who build houses for the poor or who coach youth sports?

If they give out tax breaks to veterans and other worthy citizens, the cost will have to be shared by other taxpayers, who already pay too much in taxes as it is. It might be only $10 or $12 for individuals, but when you add them all up, it becomes real money to the districts and their other struggling taxpayers.

See why this is so difficult for them? 

But if you’re directing your ire at these boards, you’ve got the wrong culprit.

It was the state Legislature who put boards in this position in the first place several years ago, by giving districts the “option” of whether to grant tax breaks to veterans, rather than funding tax breaks through the state budget.

It was a sneaky and cowardly bit of politics designed to make lawmakers look as if they were offering help to vets while not sapping the state budget.

It was the Legislature who threw the banana peel on the ground. To right this wrong, lawmakers need to take back responsibility for this unfunded mandate.

Either pass legislation to reimburse districts for tax breaks to veterans with an equal increase in their state aid. Or absolve districts of responsibility by funding the breaks through the state budget.

Making the tax breaks uniform statewide, rather than piecemeal, would also be more fair and equitable.

It’s not enough to point and laugh. 

Lawmakers need to take this burden off local school districts and give all New York veterans the break they deserve.

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