Bellone looks to restore taxpayer funds

IB/Perrotta

Bellone looks to restore taxpayer funds

Story By: ANTHONY PERROTTA
4/18/2019


HAUPPAUGE—Suffolk County executive Steve Bellone announced on Monday, April 15 that he would sign legislation to establish the first county-sponsored charitable gift reserve fund in New York State. 

Officials who support the initiative stressed that it’s a key component in the SALT Cap Response Plan, which looks to alleviate some of the burden taxpayers may experience as a result of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. 

The county resolution complies with a provision in New York State law that allows taxpayers to make a voluntary charitable contribution to a charitable gift reserve fund, according to Bellone’s team. The county executive acknowledged that the IRS has expressed skepticism regarding the plan, but said his administration would sue the agency if they made efforts to block the initiative. 

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature enacted a series of reforms to the New York State tax code last year. The legislation, which looks to combat the Republican-backed federal tax law, authorized local governments and school districts in NYS to establish charitable gift reserve funds and offer real property tax credits to incentivize contributions. 

Eligible residents are now able to make a monetary contribution to the county Charitable Gift Fund, county officials explained. Once the fund’s administrator verifies the contribution, they will present the residents with an acknowledgment form and a tax credit claim form worth 95 percent of the contribution. These forms would be presented to the appropriate receiver of taxes as payment towards a resident’s property tax bill. 

“I am committed to exhausting all available tools at our disposal to provide tax relief for our residents who are now feeling the impact of Washington’s massive tax increase,” Bellone said. “While we continue to push for Congress to restore these vital tax deductions, Suffolk County will not wait for Washington to act.”

Bellone insisted that the county would not take donations for the next tax season until the efforts are approved. He also encouraged residents to sign a petition, “Tell Washington: Restore Our Tax Deductions,” which was posted on Change.org last month. The petition hopes to get 7,500 signatures. It currently has a little over 6,600, along with another 8,000 from a previous petition. 

Deputy presiding officer Rob Calarco (D-Patchogue) said many New York residents are feeling a squeeze this tax season. “I have heard from many middle-class residents in my district who saw up to a $5,000 swing in their tax liability, leading many to write big checks to the federal government that they never had to before,” Calarco said, adding that while property tax reductions are still in place, local governments must create new ways to help taxpayers ease this “significant burden.” 

“The charitable fund will give local residents some relief until our representatives in Washington right this wrong,” the deputy presiding officer added. 

Islip resident Mike Sabatino was invited to speak during the press conference last week, where officials said that they hope to sign the legislation by the end of the month. Sabatino explained that he usually gets several thousand dollars in tax refunds. This year, he said he owes $2,000. 

The new tax law, which passed in December 2017 and was signed by President Donald Trump, capped SALT deductions at $10,000, or $5,000 for married taxpayers who file separately. Prior to the tax law, deductions were not capped. According to the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center in Washington, nearly 530,000 homeowners, or more than one in three tax filers in Nassau and Suffolk counties, are affected by the SALT cap. 

Legis. Bill Lindsay (D-Holbrook) was scheduled to speak at the press conference earlier this week, but was unable to attend. “We owe it to the taxpayers to try every avenue to recover the billions of dollars lost to the new tax plan,” Lindsay wrote in a statement. “Creative new solutions are needed to help Suffolk County residents salvage their refunds.” 

Minority leader Tom Cilmi (R-Bay Shore), on the other hand, calls the county executive’s plan an “election-year gimmick.” Cilmi said the IRS has made it clear that these efforts will not be permitted. “This is common practice for the Bellone administration,” Cilmi said, adding that the county executive proposes ideas like this one without “thinking over the details.” 

The minority leader said he and many of his other Republican colleagues support efforts to save taxpayers money, but stressed that it should be done in a more “careful way.” 

Cilmi also stated that Bellone’s office reached out to only two of the county’s 10 receivers of taxes about the initiative and the impact it would have on taxpayers. He added that neither of the two receivers is from Islip or Brookhaven townships, the county’s most populated municipalities.  

When asked about the administration’s outreach, a Bellone representative said: “We will be engaging with all town tax receivers as part of a shared services working group to implement this charitable gift reserve fund.” 

Cilmi concluded with his view that Bellone, along with Cuomo, are jumping on the “anti-Trump bandwagon.” 

“I think the taxpayers will see right through that,” Cilmi added. 

Islip’s receiver of taxes, Alexis Weik, who is also president of the Suffolk County Association of Receiver of Taxes, said she is not supporting or objecting to the plan. Weik still doesn’t think it will work, though, primarily because the IRS is not allowing it. “Taxes don’t fit the description of a charitable donation,” she said. “It’s an obligation.”

Weik added that her job description currently doesn’t allow her to make those changes. And, she noted that her office would require a new computer system to process the donations. “We don’t have the means to do this,” she said.

Bellone’s team argues that New York State already sends more taxpayer dollars to Washington than it gets in return. The New York State comptroller estimates that NYS sent $24 billion more in tax payments to Washington than it got back in federal spending last fiscal year, officials pointed out. 

The initiative only applies to county taxes, but officials hope it will eventually catch on with other municipalities, such as towns and villages, and expand to include school taxes.