Democrat Tom Suozzi announced a plan yesterday that he said would cut property taxes by $2.15 billion, primarily downstate, in exchange for capping school spending.
The gubernatorial hopeful blamed state government for New York's highest-in-the-nation property taxes, saying high taxes threaten the viability of the state. It's not local officials' fault, the Nassau County executive said.
"It's easy to blame school boards, town supervisors, mayors and county executives for high property taxes," Suozzi said, according to a copy of a speech he delivered on Long Island. "But as long as the dysfunctional Albany Legislature passes unfunded mandates down onto local governments, local officials will be forced" to raise local property taxes.
He also criticized Democratic front-runner Eliot Spitzer as lacking a plan to tackle property taxes. Suozzi also said he's staying in the race despite the attorney general's huge lead in the polls.
Gov. George Pataki is stepping down at the end of the year. On the Republican side, former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld and former Assemblyman John Faso of Columbia County are competing for the nomination.
Like Suozzi, the Republicans have focused on property taxes and overall taxes in their campaigns and have called for capping spending in various ways.
Suozzi's property-tax reduction is predicated on a previously announced plan he said would trim $5 billion in state spending, relying on cutting the state work force by 10 percent and cracking down on Medicaid fraud.
About half the savings would be dedicated to property tax relief and the other half toward settling the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit, a case that orders the state to send billions of dollars in aid to New York City schools. About $335 million would be sent to "troubled" urban school districts across the state, he said.
Suozzi's plan would boost aid to any county where the state-aid-per-student is less than $5,500. That would cover 43 counties and deliver the most aid to downstate counties. School districts would have to agree to cap spending growth at 5 percent per year for five years.
As county executive, Suozzi imposed a 19 percent property-tax hike to bring Nassau back from the brink of bankruptcy.
"How come it's not a serious issue in this campaign yet?" Suozzi said to reporters at his Long Island news conference. "I mean I've been talking about it, talking about it, talking about it. Eliot Spitzer just like mentions it in two or three words in 10 different speeches."
Spitzer spokeswoman Christine Anderson said the attorney general has talked about "addressing the underlying cause of high property taxes whether it be reforming our health-care system to reducing the Medicaid burden (to) revitalizing the upstate economy."
Spitzer will unveil additional measures in the coming months, she said, adding that he looks forward to a debate at some point.
The state Democratic convention is May 30-31 in Buffalo, but Suozzi has already said he'll skip the event.