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Is Property Tax Reform Dead Under de Blasio?

New York City

No Tax Reform

This is what New York City mayors have historically done with property tax reform.

Sept. 11, 2019

For decades, New York City mayors have kicked the can of property tax reform down the road. It’s beginning to look like Bill de Blasio, despite repeated promises, will become the next member of this benighted group. 

Vicki Been, de Blasio’s deputy mayor for Housing and Economic Development, acknowledged Tuesday that the present system is “unfair” and creates “enormous inequities,” but when asked if reform is likely before de Blasio leaves office in 2022, she responded in the negative, Crain’s reports.

"I don't know that that's realistic,” Been said. “I think the foundation can be laid. Laying the foundation now makes it a topic that has to be front and center in the next mayoral election, and I think that's really important." 

Ironically, de Blasio himself vowed during his initial 2013 mayoral campaign he would push changes to the excises on office, retail, and residential structures, including co-ops and condos. He repeated the vow during his 2017 re-election campaign. Last year, he and the city council impaneled a commission to propose changes, most of which the state Legislature would need to approve. The commission has held public hearings in all five boroughs and was scheduled to come forward with proposals in early 2019. So far, nothing. 

The biggest sticking point appears to be that property taxes account for nearly half of the city’s budget, and it is widely acknowledged that any reforms must be zero sum – that is, they can’t reduce the total take from property taxes. Therefore, for every winner, there will be an equal loser. Not the kind of football politicians like to play with. 

Been described herself as "hopeful" about the forthcoming recommendations of the commission, which she headed before becoming deputy mayor in April. "I think that it's important to have those kind of concrete, very well considered proposals out on the table,” she said, “so that the candidates for the next mayor have to confront those hard questions.” 

All hope is not lost. Soon after Been made her gloomy remarks, de Blasio press secretary Freddi Goldstein tried to spread a little sunshine, saying, “No question it’s a huge lift, but we’ll be putting out a report this year, and our intention is to move forward with reforms before the [mayor’s] term is done.” 

Hold your breath at your own risk.

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