First, a correction. In last week’s column “Whither Reform?” I mistakenly suggested that New York State’s proposed 2-percent property tax cap regulation would apply solely to the amount of the rate increase and not the assessment portion of a property tax bill. This would have allowed local municipalities to skirt the cap and artificially raise the total property levy. That is not the case. The proposed cap applies to the total combined rate and assessment levy. My apologies to the seven people who read a column about the property tax cap on a sunny holiday weekend.
The underlying theme of the column remains unchanged, however. The property tax cap is welcome relief, but a symptomatic and shortsighted one should the government not take care to fix the structural imbalances in the budget that presage the need to increase taxes to begin with. To overcome the existing budget crisis in Nassau County and the one that looms in Suffolk, we must embark on an extended period of construction and redevelopment growth to expand the tax base while deconstructing and redefining the most dramatic and expansive expenditures such as public employee pensions and Medicaid. Absent massive, collaborative efforts to pursue both measures a property tax cap has the potential to be devastating to local municipalities that will be forced to increase their indebtedness to fund state mandates and obligations, or find more creative ways to tack on hidden taxes and fees at the consumer and recreational levels.
There is much yet to be discussed about the impending budget disasters on the Island and even more on a national scale, but after a long and glorious weekend divorced from bad news and the economic realities at hand I would like to offer a handful of vignettes–loose variations on the theme I like to call “The Great Disconnect.”
This week Germany agreed to offer further assistance to help control the debt crisis in Greece. Meanwhile, the United States reported that housing prices fell sharply again in the first quarter, one of the strongest indications that the so-called recovery is still on the ropes. Equity traders on Wall Street were nonplussed by the latter news, opting instead to push the Dow Jones Industrial Average north on the news that Greece won’t be adding to its already impressive collection of ruins.
The good news in Greece was also somehow good news for commodities traders who pushed crude oil prices up to $102 a barrel. My only guess here is that they misunderstood the news and thought someone said, “grease.” That’s about as logical. Elsewhere in the United States, human beings are getting cozy with one another and participating in a phenomenon known as “slugging.” A CNN report showed long lines of commuters waiting to hitch free rides into urban areas so passengers can avoid high gas costs and the drivers can take advantage of the HOV lanes. Despite the mounting evidence of corruption in the markets and the manipulation of oil and gas prices by Wall Street banks and Big Oil, we accept what we’re told at face value and line up like Russians waiting for toilet paper in the ’80s. We are sheep.
The GOP field of potential presidential candidates is getting stranger by the minute. Well, strange to some perhaps. I prefer to think of them as a merry band of satirical awesomeness. 2012 is going to rock. Of course, before we get there, we have an exciting local year ahead of us. At the top of the list is the recent news that Suffolk County Treasurer Angie Carpenter, a Republican who was treated like the last kid chosen for kickball on the playground, will be taking on Babylon Town Supervisor Steve Bellone, the Democrats’ candidate, in the Suffolk County executive’s race. Nationally and locally the GOP really knows how to take advantage of the mid-term momentum they just gained. Sigh.
The Great Disconnect inherent in the above topics and several more will be the prevailing theme of my summer columns. The only thing predictable these days is the unpredictability of life on the planet. It’s one part Yogi Berra and two parts Alice in Wonderland as everyone tries to make sense of the world that is using lessons learned from the world that was. As the lazy days of summer roll on, we’ll pop open a frosty beverage or three together and explore the season of our disconnect.