Sunday, April 18, 2010

A Closer Look At Property Taxes

The Democrat and Chronicle had this story on the front of the Local section today. It is the latest installment in their long-running series of articles on the fact that propery taxes in New York are too high and that local governments should be consolidated.

At the outset, let me note my concerns that local property taxes, particularly school taxes, may be too high. But the treatment that the D&C gives to the topic in today's article (like most of their stories on the issue) is far too superficial and leaves many questions unanswered. Further, the statistics listed in the article are not given context which would help us determine their relevance.

The main stat in the story is that Upstate NY counties have among the highest real property taxes as a percentage of home values in the country. On its face, that seems like a damning fact. But how about some context? According to the National Ass'n. of Realtors, real property values in this area are in the bottom ten (10%) percent of values of the 150 largest metropolitan areas in the country (4th quarter, 2007). Given that fact, its not really surprising that taxes, as a percentage of value, are high.

The other regular feature of this type of article is the inevitable statement that property taxes in other states are far less than taxes here on the same value property. What the D&C has repeatedly fails discuss is what is in the basket of goods and services which local taxpayers receive for their money. In Gates, for example, my Town tax levy pays for police, fire and ambulance services, the highway department (plowing, street repair & maintenence, etc.), the library, the parks and recreation department and various other items. If I wanted to compare my taxes with those of someone in Virginia or North Carolina, I would have to know if all of those items were provided by the local government there, or if there were other taxes (for example, in Virginia where there is a personal property tax that covers some items our County property tax is earmarked for) or if there were private entities that provided those services for a fee. Only if we knew the relative cost of the same basket of goods and services in each location, could we make a fair comparison.

I would also like to see another statistic which I believe would be telling. I'd like to know the percentage of local taxes to total state and local taxes and where NY stands relative to other states in that vein. I pay substantially more in State income, sales and use taxes than I do in local taxes. I would be stunned if much more than 10-15% of my total state and local tax dollars went to local governments. When consolidation advocates statrt telling me we will save a lot by cutting down the number of governmental units, I'd like to ask them to show me the proof. We will still have the gaping maw that is Albany!

There is no question we are overtaxed in New York. I am sure that many municipal governments, particularly school districts, could tighten their belts. But in the end, I doubt there is as much disparity between local taxes here and in other states as people anecdotally believe. The real problem remains our State government in Albany. Until they stop spending money like there is no limit to our resources, we will continue to see our State lose people and opportunity.

Broder Misses The Mark

David Broder penned this column today. In it he described the Obama presidency as one which will be deemed "an era of substantial but deferred accomplishments".

This is at least the second Broder column since the passage of "Obamacare" in which Broder, like so many inside the beltway pundits, has lauded the President's accomplishments and  essentially predicted an Obama "comeback" in stature and effectiveness.

The strangest part of this column (at least to me) is that Broder used the President's recent nuclear arms summit as the basis for his views. Broder lauds the President for seeking "a nuclear free world" (I'll leave aside my view that this is more a bumper sticker slogan than a well-defined policy). But Broder goes on to discuss the summit as if it represented real movement towards nuclear arms reduction.

Obama has done little in the real world to stop the growth of nuclear weapons. Broder and others will point to his deal with the Russians to reduce the number of nuclear warheads. But the Russians only did that deal so that they would not have to replace obsolete missles to retain parity with the US. We got rid of useful weapons, they got rid of junk.

Further, I'd argue his inaction on Iranian nukes will lead to a nuclear arms race in the Middle East and virtually insure that terrorists get their hands on nuclear materials. The Israelis cannot let Iran actually develop weapons that the Iranian President says he will use on Israel. As such, Israel must inevitably attack the Iranian nuke facillities. The US has apparently decided it will not acquiesce in such an attack and has denied Israel the "bunker buster" bombs which it would likely have used in such an effort. That will leave Israel with only one choice; use tactical nuclear weapons on Iran. That will set off an effort by every major Middle Eastern arab nation to get nuclear weapons.

Broder though thinks this summit will have the effect of  going dramatically further down the path of disarmament. After all, Broder noted that 46 nations sent representatives who expressed their assent to the goal. I wonder if some aging pundit in 1928 waxed eloquent over the banning of war as public policy when more than 50 nations signed the Kellog-Briand Treaty? That worked out well, didn't it?

Sadly, Broder is clearly past his prime. He is wrong on both his belief in the value of the nuke summit and the re-birth of the Obama presidency. I think the November elections should allow for a useful evaluation of what Americans think on this score.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Rooneys Are Not Amused

I am proud to be a Steeler fan today.

The Rooney's showed that some things are more important than winning. They think that character counts. Santonio Holmes was dealt for a fifth round draft pick after he violated the NFL's substance abuse policy again. This followed his drink throwing and DUI incidents. The Steelers said good-bye despite his prowess as a player.

Then they made it clear that Big Ben is also on thin ice. Unlike last year's denial speech, none of Steeler management backed up Roethlisberger while he gave his lame "I'm sorry, I was drunk", quasi-apology. Sorry Ben, this excuse isn't cutting it with Steeler management and many Steeler fans.

Ben has a lot of work to do to win back respect. He might start by staying out of college bars and hitting on coeds.

At least the Rooney's aren't just slapping him on the back saying "boys will be boys". I think that another incident will be strike three for Ben, no matter how good a QB he is. Letting Holmes go for a song was a pretty good indication that the Steeler's owners have a tolerance limit.

Good for them!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Failure To Connect The Dots

This morning's Democrat & Chronicle contained a story about the nuclear non-proliferation summit being hosted by President Obama.

According to the story, one focus of the summit is to prevent the spread of nuclear materials to terrorists, who could smuggle same into the heart of a big city. The President is correct in wanting to keep nukes out of the hands of terrorists, but his actions belie his words.

The complete failure of this Administration to take serious steps to stop Iran from developing atomic weapons undercuts anything the President is doing to stop the spread of nukes. Does anyone doubt that Iran will provide nuclear material to Hamas or Hezbollah or Al-quida or the Taliban? Once Iran has nukes, terrorists will get the capability soon thereafter.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Nothing But Politics

Governor Paterson announced last week that he was delaying setting a date for a special election to replace Eric Massa, who resigned his seat in NY's 29th Congressional District.

Paterson's statement indicated his concerns about the costs of a special election and the burdens it would place on County governments. What a crock! Paterson has been an Albany pol for decades. He never saw a dime he didn't want to spend. Why does he have "religion" now on the cost of a special in the 29th? Its simply because the Democrats don't have a candidiate.

The GOP's likely nominee, Corning Mayor, Tom Reed, has been campaigning and he has a fundraising advantage. The Dems are squabbling. David Koon announced yesterday that he was taking himself out of the race. Its simply not clear who they will run.

So once again we have the spectacle of Democrats deciding for us whether or not we get what we want. Gov. Paterson and the Dems would rather let the seat stay vacant, and allow the 29th to be unrepresented in Congress, than cede any advantage to the GOP candidate. They just don't care what we think and they don't care about what's right. They only care about power.