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Andrew Cuomo's creative plan can help hold line on taxes

Governor Cuomo during a press conference Wednesday, Jan.

Governor Cuomo during a press conference Wednesday, Jan. 14, 2015 at Hofstra. Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa

New Yorkers who don't make or have much money usually pay little or no state or federal income taxes. But they still pay property taxes, and on Long Island, those rates are sky high.

That's one reason Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's new plan to give income tax credits to families and individuals who earn less than $250,000 a year and pay more than 6 percent of their income in property taxes is a good proposal. Credits up to $2,000 would be made only in districts that stay below the state's property tax cap. The tax break would also be available to renters who make less than $250,000 and for whom the part of their rent that covers the property taxes of the owner is more than 6 percent of their income. The move is part of Cuomo's long-term strategy to better control the tax burden in New York and thwart groups that think taxes can just keep going up.

The proposal could have a price tag of $1.7 billion and help as many as 330,000 Long Islanders, many of them older residents whose property taxes keep rising even as their retirement incomes do not. These are seniors who want to stay in the homes where they set down roots and raised families -- homes now worth perhaps $600,000 with annual tax bills of $18,000, even though their only income is from Social Security.

The plan could be a boon to young adults starting out who may not be able to afford that first house payment and instead must rent or even leave the Island because of the prospect of a costly property tax bill.

With this latest proposal, Cuomo continues to grow more determined to hold the line on property taxes by ratcheting up pressure on local governments and school districts. A 2 percent property tax cap was enacted in 2011. Then came the "tax freeze" in which the state rebates property tax increases to homeowners as long as school districts and other local entities keep tax hikes under the cap and work together to cut costs through shared services and consolidation.

Now Cuomo wants to launch this property tax credit, bringing further pressure to hold the line even as local governments run out of reserves and public employees look to bolster contracts with generous work rules and raises. Most taxing entities have not tried to bust the cap since it was enacted. When some school districts have tried to do so, they've more often than not been unable to garner the 60 percent of votes necessary to approve the hikes.

The governor is wise to keep applying pressure. Many school districts and local governments got by in the first few years of the tax cap, but now reserve funds are drying up. When officials no longer merely threaten to cut programs, but actually do so, pressure to bust the tax cap will grow tremendously. Cuomo wants to keep giving taxpayers incentive to fight back.

Cuomo has successfully made controlling property taxes a priority. If lawmakers in Albany don't poke holes in his plan, it will be another smart shot fired in an ever-tougher battle.