Gov. Andrew Cuomo's office on Thursday announced it will seek legislation to let the state recoup millions in school tax breaks paid to high-income New Yorkers who did not qualify to receive them.
The announcement came five days after an investigation by The Journal News found an estimated $28 million in school property-tax subsidies since 2011 were granted to households ineligible to receive them because they earned more than $500,000 a year. And it came 10 weeks after the administration said it was the responsibility of local assessors to recover the state's ill-spent STAR tax dollars.
Assessors had roundly panned that plan.
"We'll be pursuing legislation to empower tax and finance officials to directly recover STAR benefits previously granted to ineligible property owners and to increase penalties for STAR fraud," said Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi.
Three candidates seeking to oust Cuomo — Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, Fordham Law professor Zephyr Teachout and Green Party hopeful Howie Hawkins — last week had called on Cuomo to act.
"It's unfortunate that it took a newspaper expose to convince the governor to take action," said Astorino campaign spokesman Bill O'Reilly. "By doing nothing he was driving property taxes even higher for those least able to afford them. We are hopeful that the governor will have a real change of heart now and allow the tax assessor into his own home to determine how much he, himself, has been underpaying the Town of New Castle for the past four years."
O'Reilly was referring to another Journal News investigation in May, which found that extensive renovations had been done at Cuomo's $1.2 million home in 2008 and 2009 without building permits or an increase in its taxable value. In June, the New Castle assessor hiked the assessment by 29 percent but based that on an inspection of the outside of the house. Cuomo and his partner, Food Network star Sandra Lee, would not let the assessor inside.
Two things to say here.
First, is it a surprise that the Cuomo administration had to be shamed by public expose in a newspaper to collect taxes owed by people making more than $500,000?
Second, how hypocritical that Cuomo is going to go after these tax deadbeats while sparing himself and his consort, Sandra Lee, from paying the taxes they may rightfully owe on their Westchester home.
Alas, since Cuomo refuses to allow the tax assessors into his home to see what upgrades he and Sandra Lee made to it, we'll never know whether he owes those taxes or not.