New York overtaxed and frustrated
The tax system in New York is baffling — even to tax experts. Kent Gardner is one of them.
Gardner spoke Tuesday evening at a forum on taxation sponsored by the East Lake Association of Canandaigua Lake. He is the chief economist and president of a policy and management consulting organization called the Center for Governmental Research in Rochester, founded by George Eastman in 1915.
The Byzantine tax system may have been intended to be equitable. But everyone knows it isn't, including the 15 local residents who came out to hear Gardner.
They especially don't like annual school tax hikes and voracious school spending. And they're not big on the inflexibility of bureaucracies in general.
New York taxes are mostly illogical and confusing, and they sap the state's economic energy, according to Gardner.
For example, bonds to pay for the Thruway were paid off 25 years ago, but the tolls still tally up — a lot of it from interstate trucking and tourists. Somehow, the money gets spent. In fact, Republican State Sen. Thomas Libous said last week the state has been diverting as much as $750 million annually from what is supposed to be a dedicated fund for highway and bridge maintenance.
But it was school spending that seemed to most rile the participants Tuesday night.
School districts continue to levy more taxes despite the school tax relief program — STAR, which lops off money from property owners' tax bills. Yet the governmental research center says schools are 6 percent less efficient than they were before STAR existed.
"The system itself is made to break the people," said Bob Gusciora, a Canandaigua Lake property owner of 30 years. "It has reached a point where we're going to have to move."
Seniors and people whose children are grown or who are childless still suffer the sting of annual school-tax increases, Gusciora said.
"I don't understand what's broken, but something's really broken with the school (tax) system," Gardner said, adding that it's the state's greatest failure.
He cited several problems.
One is litigious parents, who sue a school district if their kid has a perceived problem but is denied a costly special-education curriculum.
"The burden is on the school districts to prove a kid doesn't need special education," Gardner said. "That makes no sense."
Another is grandfathered-in stipulations of union contracts that no longer seem to reflect the realities of today's work environment, having been agreed to in New York's halcyon days of profitable manufacturing.
Yet another is long-retired teachers who still get annual cost-of-living increases to their pensions, making their benefits more lucrative than their paychecks ever were.
Some people have had it.
"We've lived here for years, and we're wondering how to get the hell out of here," said Gerry Michalski.
Others are more optimistic, like Gorham Town Supervisor Richard Calabrese.
"We can do better," he said. "We've done it before, and we can do it again."
Billie Owens can be reached at (585) 394-0770, Ext. 320, or at