Albany Gets the Message

As Benjamin Franklin said, “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”

Indeed, it does often seem that taxes — and ever-rising taxes — are as ineluctable as death. Nobody gets out of this world alive, and no American gets through it without having to answer to the United States Internal Revenue Service. But the truth is (and of course Franklin’s witticism played on this) that these two certainties were not created equal … unless people are resigned to it. Only if we come to accept the reality of governmental budgets constantly expanding — like sponges filling up not with water but with our tax money — are we doomed to pay more and more, and get less and less in return. Or, in the words of Senator Simcha Felder (D-Brooklyn), are we doomed to be treated by New York State “like an ATM machine.”

Felder joined Republican Leader Dean Skelos and Conference members earlier this week in introducing the Family Tax Relief Act in the state legislature. The plan calls for a raft of tax changes that, even if only half of them pass, could provide vital breathing room for middle-class taxpayers.

The plan restores the STAR property-tax rebate check program; more than doubles the value of the Dependent Exemption; increases the Child Tax Credit; provides an additional $500 child tax credit; and increases the value of the Dependent Care Credit.

That the existing tax laws are out of date and do not reflect the economic ravages of recent years is one of those “self-evident truths” of the kind Franklin with which and his colleagues were familiar. The current $1,000 value of the Dependent Exemption was last updated in 1987.

King George III and the British parliament in the 18th century were an ocean away from their colonies in the New World. They were mentally in a different world as well, caught in the mindset of invincible empire: Britannia rules the waves, and collects taxes as she wishes.

Albany, though somewhat less majestic, is out of touch, too, and the time has come to remind the “parliament” there that we have had enough of an unfair and unthinking tax system. Fortunately, it appears that state legislators are getting the message.

Other legislators in Albany have declared their support. State Sen. Michael H. Ranzenhofer (R-Amherst) observed that “New York homeowners pay some of the highest property taxes in the nation. While the tax cap has been slamming the door on spikes in property-tax increases since being enacted two years ago, more still needs to be done to help middle-class families and seniors on a fixed income. Restoring the STAR rebate check program will deliver hundreds of dollars in property-tax relief to the average New York homeowner.”

Senator Lee Zeldin (R-C-I, Shirley) said: “I am also extremely pleased that the Senate Republicans are working hard to restore the STAR rebate check program. When it was previously available, it proved to be a big help to seniors and middle-income families and individuals. The fact is, it should never have been repealed in the first place.”

Senator Catharine Young (R-I-C, Olean) said: “Families struggle to keep up, pay the monthly bills, and have enough left over to save for college. Parents go out each day, work hard, pick the kids up from daycare or school, and feel stressed and overburdened from suffocating taxes. Moms and dads need the government to stop reaching into their wallets so they can keep more of their hard-earned money.”

Franklin and his fellow Founders fought against taxation without representation. They staked their lives on establishing a form of government accountable and responsive to the people, which would not be able to impose taxes endlessly against their will, eating away at their livelihood and their hope for the future.

But if we don’t fight for tax relief, and don’t urge our legislators to act on our behalf, then we deserve the representation and the taxation we get.

Not all questions in life are hard; sometimes the answers are easy. This is not a moral dilemma, nor a subtle philosophical problem that challenges our intellectual grasp or the right to exercise our free choice. Nor does it require any great personal courage to take a stand on it.

Rather, it belongs to that blessed category of issues which are clear-cut and require only the good sense to recognize what is obviously needed and to give it energetic support.

Call it a bandwagon issue. But it’s a good bandwagon, and we’re jumping on it. The more the merrier.