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Cuomo pushes property tax freeze

Office of Gov. Andrew Cuomo
Gov. Andrew Cuomo brought local leaders from both parties to the Capitol to promoted his property tax plan.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo enlisted the aid of some local government leaders to promote his tax freeze proposal, which has been losing ground in the New York state legislature.

Cuomo, surrounded by several county executives from across the state, promoted his plan, which is not supported in the state legislature. He says he’s signed up 150 local government leaders as supporters.

“It is a bold proposal, I understand that,” said Cuomo. He predicts the more people hear about it, the more they will support it.

The governor has also dipped into his $33 million campaign war chest to air a new series of television ads promoting his property tax plan.

Among the local government leaders who joined Cuomo were Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano, a Republican, and Ulster County Executive Michael Hein, a Democrat.

“I stand shoulder to shoulder with the governor,” Hein said.

Cuomo’s announcement comes in response to progressive-leaning groups who collected signatures from 100 local government leaders opposed to the governor’s plan. That list includes New York Democratic Party Co-Chairwoman and Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner.   

The event occurs as the state Assembly and Senate are rejecting the governor’s multi-step plan to freeze property taxes for the next two years. The plan hinges on the cooperation of local government and schools, who need to agree to live within the state’s two percent spending cap, and demonstrate that they have consolidated some services. In exchange, they would receive state subsidies and homeowners would get rebate checks.

Legislative leaders, speaking after a budget meeting, downplayed their differences with Cuomo. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s house chose a circuit breaker plan instead. It would give tax credits to New Yorkers who can least afford to pay their property taxes.

“We all are in agreement, actually, that people need relief from property taxes and we’ve all put forth different methods to do it,” said Silver, who said he hopes for a compromise.

Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos’ ruling coalition proposed an alternative they labeled “Freeze Plus," which would simplify Cuomo’s plan.

“I don’t think it’s a rejection,” Skelos said. “The concept is the same. We’re just taking a different approach. That’s all.”

Perhaps acknowledging that the tax freeze plan is in trouble, Cuomo has shifted its focus – saying it is really a means to an end. He says the real goal, after the two-year freeze, is to get local governments and schools to actually cut spending and bring property taxes down, by as much as three percent in the third year of the program.

“The point of the tax freeze is to prompt the tax cut, that is the whole point,” said Cuomo, who says he hopes to prompt and provoke local governments to follow the plan  and make the cuts.

The governor and lawmakers have just about two weeks to come to an agreement on a property tax plan, as well as the rest of the budget, to meet the deadline.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.