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Governor Cuomo pitches tax freeze in Nassau speech

New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo gives the

New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo gives the State of the State address at the Empire State Plaza and Convention Center in Albany on Jan. 8, 2014. Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams, Jr.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo told a Nassau audience Wednesday that his plan to freeze property taxes for two years in exchange for municipalities sharing services and abiding by the 2 percent tax cap would provide critical relief for beleaguered Long Island homeowners.

Pitching a key element in his 2014-2015 budget proposal, Cuomo told a crowd of about 300 at Nassau Community College that local governments have duplicative services, inefficiencies and patronage that cost taxpayers millions of dollars per year and drive families and businesses out of the state.

He noted that in Nassau there are 305 local governments, including 39 fire districts and 28 water districts, and that Suffolk County has 404.

"Not everyone needs to do everything," said Cuomo, a Democrat running for re-election this year. "Not everyone has to have their own maintenance garage. Not everyone has to have their own lawyers. We can find ways for governments to work together to reduce costs."

In the first year of Cuomo's plan, first announced in December, homeowners living in municipalities that adopt local budgets that stay within the tax cap would receive a state income tax credit equal to the growth in their property taxes.

The freeze would continue for a second year if governments stayed within the tax cap and developed three-year plans to consolidate or share services. Governments would have to reduce their annual tax levy by 1 percent a year over the period.

E.J. McMahon, head of the Empire Center for Public Policy, a nonprofit Albany think tank that promotes free market principles, questioned whether municipalities will go through the political headaches of consolidating districts in exchange for a short-term, temporary tax freeze.

"The governor is describing this as a panacea," McMahon said. "But there is no significant incentive for anybody to make significant changes."

Christopher Wittenhagen of Seaford, who introduced Cuomo Wednesday, said he pays $7,200 per year in property taxes -- nearly 10 percent of his salary as a plumber.

Wittenhagen said Cuomo's plan "would make things a bit easier . . . The hundreds of dollars in savings we would get under his plan would help buy groceries and pay the bills."

Cuomo said nearly 700,000 Long Island homeowners would save an average of $565 during the two year freeze.

He said the plan, which the State Legislature must approve, could face resistance from local governments that "have a patronage system. Those are jobs and they are not so quick to reduce their size."

In his 30-minute speech, Cuomo also criticized the rollout of the state's new Common Core curriculum.

"It has been managed and implemented poorly," Cuomo said. "It has created chaos and anxiety all across the system."

Cuomo said he was working with the legislature to "slow down" the program's implementation until "we know what the consequences are."Cuomo had kinder words for PSE&G, the utility company that took over Long Island's electrical grid last month after heavy criticism of LIPA in the wake of superstorm Sandy.

"So far, so good," Cuomo told reporters after his speech. "In dealing with them, I believe they are more competent than LIPA. I believe they have handled the past storms well."

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