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Tax overhaul hits home on Long Island

Images of people in Hempstead and elsewhere waiting to pay their taxes early highlight the geographical divisions in the federal tax overhaul.

Town of Hempstead residents line up to prepay

Town of Hempstead residents line up to prepay their 2018 property taxes at the office of the town's tax receiver in Hempstead on Tuesday, Dec. 26, 2017. Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

So far, the most striking image associated with the just-signed federal tax overhaul might not be the smiling faces at the Republicans’ signing ceremony, but the hundreds of people lining up and spilling out of tax offices in Riverhead, Smithtown and Hempstead.

And in Westchester County; Montclair, New Jersey; Fairfax County, Virginia; and Joliet, Illinois.

In sum, the images show that rather than celebrate the new tax law, residents in certain states are doing what they can to circumvent it. The reason: For them, the new law means a tax hike instead of a tax cut.

And it’s an image that not only illustrates the political and geographical division over the new law, but also one that might endure in campaign ads in 2018 and 2020 — at least in so-called “blue” states.

At issue is one of the most controversial elements of the new tax law, engineered by President Donald Trump and the Republican-led Congress. It restricts one of the most popular deductions — the one that allows you to deduct from your federal taxes the amount you have paid in state and local taxes.

The deduction, as of 2018, will be limited to $10,000. That’s too low for many homeowners in high-tax states, such as New York, who pay much more than that annually.

In response, elected officials in high-tax states, including Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, encouraged residents to prepay 2018 taxes before the end of 2017 so as to not lose the full value of the deduction.

Cuomo, a Democrat, also sought to make political hay of it, doing a flurry of cable TV interviews on CNN, MSNBC and CNBC. He generated headlines by repeating what he’s been saying to New York reporters for months: He might sue to overturn the tax plan, or he might restructure the state’s tax code. He provided no details.

Cuomo said the tax plan treats states so differently it might violate equal protection and due process protections.

But some experts noted the Supreme Court has interpreted the 16th Amendment as giving Congress wide authority to tax.

“I don’t understand how they think they have a valid lawsuit here,” David Gamage, an Indiana University tax law professor, told Reuters.

Besides the TV appearances, Cuomo also put money behind the push. Empire State Development, the Empire State Development Corp., an arm of state government, financed ads that ran around New York until Dec. 31 encouraging prepayment of taxes. Officials wouldn’t disclose the cost.

New York’s congressional delegation largely opposed the tax plan because of this very issue. Reps. Peter King (R-Seaford) and Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) were vocal in their opposition, but party moderates were unable to derail the bill.

Even so, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Democrats used the images of the lines streaming out the tax offices against them next fall.

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