Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy, stumping in Hauppauge in his campaign for governor, called Wednesday for a property tax cap tied to statewide cost-of-living increases, adding fuel to a long-running debate about high taxes in New York.
"We need to give our taxpayers a break," said Levy, calling New York a "state on the brink of bankruptcy."
Levy and former Rep. Rick Lazio, who are competing for the Republican nomination for governor, both are blasting Albany lawmakers for delays in approving the coming year's budget. Because of the delays, Gov. David A. Paterson has suspended school aid payments and funding for state construction projects, including the rebuilding of the Route 110-LIE interchange.
On Tuesday, Lazio said that if Paterson had been tougher with last year's budget, "he'd not be in the situation where he is now - withholding payments for construction projects and for schools.
"This is a budget that was irresponsible but no one wanted to say 'no' to the special interests," Lazio said.
Lazio has said he supports a "hard" property tax cap of 2.5 percent annually.
Levy's tax-cap proposal is similar to a plan recently unveiled by Paterson that would curb annual growth in local property taxes at 120 percent of the inflation rate or 4 percent, whichever is lower. Speaking at a union hall, Levy said Paterson's tax cap proposal, blocked for two years by the state Assembly, was too late to help the current budget crisis.
Responding to a reporter's question Wednesday about Levy's tax-cap stance, Paterson said he planned meetings with leaders of the State Senate and Assembly to discuss his proposed cap on school property taxes.
"Even in the worst of economic times, the property tax issue is driving residents out of the state," Paterson said. "We think a property tax cap would be the way to entice a lot of New Yorkers who are looking elsewhere to stay right here."
To avoid future crises, Levy said he wants a "hard deadline" in which the governor's budget proposal in January would go into effect automatically if the state Legislature did not complete a plan by March 31.
Lazio blamed the current state budget crisis - in which lawmakers face a $9.2-billion deficit - as the result of "fiscal management that reigns supreme in Albany."
State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, the likely Democratic Party nominee for governor, didn't have an official comment about the expected passing of the state's April 1 budget deadline. But an aide acknowledged, "Budget issues will obviously be an issue in the campaign."
Despite Paterson's order on state-funded construction, Levy expressed confidence that the Route 110-LIE project - widening and elevating the overpass at one of Long Island's busiest interchanges - would eventually get done without serious interruption. He called it another local effect of Albany's failure to arrive at a budget.
"This is a big issue because it goes to the heart of the state's dysfunction and we in New York State are a laughingstock around the nation," said Levy, who said Suffolk follows a "hard deadline" process in its budget-making.
With James T. Madore