In February, Adirondack interests raised concerns about a proposal in Governor Andrew Cuomo’s budget that would shift how New York pays property taxes to local communities on lands it owns in the Adirondacks. A “Forever Taxable” Coalition formed to oppose a cap and Payment in Lieu of Taxes system in the Adirondacks and Catskills. The effort was successful and the idea was removed from the final budget. But concerns remain that such a proposal could re-appear in the future.
The Adirondack Park is a mix of public and private lands, and the state pays property taxes to towns on state-owned land just like any private landowner. The state Tax Department had proposed creating a PILOT, or payment in lieu of taxes, and capping any increased assessment from year to year at 2 percent on state-owned lands.
Municipalities and conservation groups had asked the governor to remove the proposed cap and PILOT from the Executive Budget. When that did not happen, a “Forever Taxable” Coalition formed to oppose the plan. When the budget was finalized, the legislature had killed the proposal.
Adirondack Mountain Club Executive Director Neil Woodworth says a PILOT and cap would have affected not only state-owned land in the Adirondacks and Catskills, but also the 12 largest state parks and forests from Long Island to Lake Erie and impacted the economies of hundreds of towns and school districts across the state. “Back in 1886 the state of New York agreed to be treated like any private taxpayer. The state couldn’t determine their own taxes. And the tax cap and PILOT proposal under that proposal the state of New York would decide how much it paid and cap the amount of increase in state payments to localities and school districts for state land. The Adirondack Mountain Club and others took the position that that was an unlawful abrogation of the Great Deal that was made in 1886.”
Town of North Hudson Supervisor and Adirondack Association of Towns and Villages board member Ron Moore says about 76 percent of land in that town is state-owned. “When you’ve got that much Forest Preserve you need to be able to tax it as you would any private land. This PILOT program would have disabled that process.”
While the Forever Taxable Coalition was successful this year, Woodworth notes that similar proposals have been tried at least four times in the past 15 years. Adirondack Council Spokesman John Sheehan says efforts must continue to prevent a reoccurrence. “Any governor can propose to reduce those payments. It’s often in their best interests if they want to keep the budget low. So I think we can count on the Adirondacks’ tax payments from the state being in some jeopardy periodically for the foreseeable future.”
Woodworth says the only way to automatically prevent similar future proposals would be a state constitutional amendment. “Right now we have Real Property Tax Law sections that in effect keep the current setup legally enforceable. The governor’s proposal would have changed those laws and the Legislature would have had to have gone along with it which they both deliberately deleted.”
New York 115th District Assemblyman D. Billy Jones praised the defeat of the PILOT, noting that a shift to such a plan would “…overburden taxpayers, who would have had to make up for the money lost by municipalities and counties.”