Albany should cover cost of veterans' exemptions

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Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. Photo Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

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Joye Brown Newsday columnist Joye Brown

Joye Brown has been a columnist for Newsday since 2006. She joined the newspaper in 1983 and has

If Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and state lawmakers want to help war veterans by allowing school districts to exempt them from a portion of property taxes, that's fine.

But what they've put into place is a system where veterans in one school district potentially could be treated differently than veterans in another.

And where neighbors who are not war veterans can find themselves pitted against neighbors in the same school district who are.

Some district officials complained that they didn't even know until late January or February that Cuomo in December had signed into law the provision giving districts the authority to provide the exemptions, according to a Newsday story published Monday.

That led to relatively rushed decisions for the districts with a March 1 deadline for implementing the exemption for the 2014-2015 school year.

But there are other issues as well.

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The region has a tradition of service, extending back to the World War II veterans who -- with considerable help from the U.S. government -- put down roots, wide and deep, in communities from Levittown to Gordon Heights.

Today, their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren continue to step up and serve, long after the end of mandatory service.

Nassau and Suffolk also continue to benefit from the culture of service to community and volunteerism that those World War II veterans seeded through everything from fire and emergency medical services to Little League coaching.


As a result, even as the number of World War II veterans declines, Long Island nonetheless remains home to the largest concentration of veterans in New York State.

That alone leaves the region with a disproportionate share of potential war veteran exemptions. And that's compounded by the region having more than 100 school districts -- with boundaries varying wildly in size.

In short, districts opting for war veteran exemptions also would be increasing the school portion of the property tax for nonveterans -- at a cost that also could vary wildly depending on the number of war veterans and the district's geographical size, along with the number of commercial properties that pay the highest portion of property taxes.

But this isn't just about Albany sending down another -- for districts that opt in -- unfunded mandate.

It's a situation that is pitting what could help veterans against what could challenge school districts -- which came up last month during a sometimes tense Lindenhurst school board meeting where a board member, who also is a veteran, told another veteran that the board had to balance the needs of each group.

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There is a better way to make the law work -- or at least to more equitably spread its impact: Have Albany assume the cost for the law Cuomo and lawmakers passed.

Assemb. Thomas Abinanti (D-Greenburgh) has proposed that the state do just that, according to the Newsday report.

"It is becoming clear that there will be a significant shift in tax burden to the nonveteran property taxpayers in many school districts -- especially in small school districts," the lawmaker wrote in a letter to Cuomo.

Wednesday, Matt Wing, a spokesman for Cuomo, was asked whether the governor would support legislation Abinanti is drafting that would have Albany pick up the cost.

"We are happy to review any proposal that would provide additional support to veterans," he said.

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