BY DYLAN SKRILOFF
There appears to be a growing consensus that the school tax formula in New York State needs to change. As school costs have exploded in the last two decades, the property tax mechanism has posed many challenges, often causing homeowners, especially seniors on fixed income, to flee the neighborhood.
Two Democratic candidates have been aggressively campaigning on changing the school tax formula to use a local allocation of income taxes; those men are Christopher Eachus, Democratic candidate for State Senate in the 39th District and Orange County Legislator, and James Skoufis, Democratic candidate for the 99th Assembly District and Woodbury Councilman. Eachus’ district comprises most of Stony Point and Haverstraw as well as parts of Orange County, while Skoufis is running in Stony Point and parts of Orange County.
“Funding education through the property tax is fundamentally wrong,” said Eachus. “It is unfair to the child because it means that the quality of the education is based on the wealth of the district. It is unfair to the taxpayer because the property tax has nothing to do with one’s ability to pay.”
“People have been voting ‘with their feet,'” continued Eachus. “Residents are moving as soon as they can get their house sold. High school taxes are the number one detriment to attracting high paying jobs to the Hudson Valley.”
However these two Democrats are not the only ones who said they are open to changing the formula. Incumbent Assembly members Kenneth Zebrowski (D) and Annie Rabbitt (R) both confirmed they are amenable to change, as did State Senator William Larkin (R).
Republican opponent of James Skoufis, Kyle Roddey, said he wants to change the formula, but not in the same way as Skoufis. Roddey said, “I think it’s clear that our school funding formula is broken. On the one end we are chasing people from their homes, on the other we are making it impossible for people to buy a home. Moving to an income only formula does not provide real relief; it is merely robbing Peter to pay Paul…Where one on fixed income is punished under the current system, under an income based only model you would be punished the more you work and the more you earn. A more blended approach, one that draws money from income, property, and other sources, provides a better solution.”
Roddey also said he’d like to attack the problem from the cost level. He said, “It is just as vital that our education system becomes more cost effective and efficient. We need real mandate relief from New York State and that will be my priority.”
Debate over the school tax formula is gaining broad traction in the political community and the public for the first time. Assemblyman Zebrowski recently met with businessmen and business leaders at a “Business Roundtable” and the topic of getting the school tax burden off their property tax was repeatedly suggested. Zebrowski’s spokesman Chris Bresnan said the Assemblyman plans to present new options on how to fund schools in 2013.
Only five years ago change of the school tax formula was considered a fringe topic. It has suddenly gone from the fringe to full center.
The Rockland County Times publisher emeritus Armand Miele has editorialized in favor of changing the school tax formula for the last decade. Miele has pointed out that New York is one of the only states which uses a primarily property tax-based model of funding schools and some cities within New York do not even use it.