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Dropping sales tax revenue worrying counties

Mike Mozart

Sales tax revenue is down for almost half of New York state’s 64 counties. Sales tax receipts were down across the state by 2.3 percent in the fourth quarter of 2015, compared to 2014.

Officials with the New York State Association of Counties say this is a troubling trend, because the fourth quarter includes holiday sales, which traditionally boost sales tax revenues. Officials don’t know exactly what’s causing the decline in spending. 

Onondaga County Executive Joanie Mahoney, who saw tax receipts in her central New York county drop almost two percent, thinks lower gas prices play a big part.

"It’s under $2 a gallon right now and that will generate half of the sales tax revenue that it generated just a few years ago,” said Mahoney.

This comes at a time when a county government like Mahoney’s counts on sales tax more and more to balance its budget. So the question she says right now is whether people will use their savings at the pump to spend money elsewhere, or put it in a savings account.

"I don’t imagine that every dollar people save at the gas pump will be put in their bank account and if they spend some of it, it will generate sales tax elsewhere. But we just have to keep an eye on it,” said Mahoney.

She says that leaves Onondaga County pinching pennies until it is clear how spending trends play out.

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.