Property tax reform left hanging by Spitzer’s exit

By John Celock | March 19, 2008 04:12PM

Former Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s abrupt resignation and the ascension of Gov. David Paterson on Monday have stalled Spitzer’s efforts to reform New York state’s notoriously high property taxes.

Spitzer’s commission, headed by Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi, was developing plans to curb rising local property taxes. Suozzi’s commission formed in January and was expected to deliver recommendations in May, including a possible cap on increasing property taxes at 4 percent per year.

Suozzi said that he has talked to Paterson since Spitzer was linked to a prostitution ring, but not about the property tax commission. He said they would discuss these issues in the coming weeks.

“We need to see from Gov. Paterson if it will be a priority for him,” Suozzi said.

Paterson won’t easily ignore one member of the Suozzi commission: his father, former state Secretary of State Basil Paterson, was appointed by Spitzer to the panel. Suozzi said he has not spoken to the elder Paterson since the Spitzer scandal. A message left at Basil Paterson’s Garden City law office was not returned.

A source within Paterson’s transition team said the property tax issue has not been addressed yet. Paterson’s first focus is on the state budget, due at the end of the month, along with an agency-by-agency review of state operations. The source said state commissions and studies set up by Spitzer will continue until Paterson has reviewed them.

Kyle Kotary, an Albany political consultant who worked for Paterson when he was the state Senate’s minority leader, said the new governor worked on property taxes while a legislator and understands the issue’s importance in the suburbs.

Assemblyman Sam Hoyt, a Buffalo Democrat and chairman of the Assembly’s Local Government Committee, said the property tax issue, including a potential cap, has been a priority for legislators, who he said will continue to push the issue.

“There is a lot of support for the property tax cap,” Hoyt said. “We’re not going to let it fall by the wayside.”

Spitzer helmed a compromise with the Legislature last year that led to a $1.3 billion property tax refund targeted to the middle class. In December, two upstate Republican assemblymen, Joel Miller and Marc Molinaro, called on Spitzer to make property tax reform his top priority this year and accused Assembly Democrats of “blocking” property tax reforms that had been approved by the Republican-controlled Senate.

The proposed property tax cap has generated opposition from special interest groups, including the United Federation of Teachers, which claims a cap would hinder local governments and school boards from solving funding issues.