This is an op-ed from Democratic New York State Senate candidate Leslie Danks Burke. It was not written by The Ithaca Voice. To submit op-eds for consideration, send them to Matt Butler at mbutler@ithacavoice.com.

Upstate’s challenges — like educational inequity, unaffordable housing, healthcare access, and racial and economic inequality — demand a drastic cut and serious overhaul of New York’s hyper-regressive property taxes.

Under our ruinous property taxes, senior citizens fear losing their homes. Middle class families are priced out of the opportunity for homeownership, while landlords raise rents to unsustainably high levels. 

Yet New York is the only state that handles property taxes the way we do, impacting one social concern after another.

If you own a home in upstate New York, your monthly payments are probably twice your actual mortgage because of taxes. Binghamton, Syracuse and Rochester have the highest property taxes in the country compared to home values. 

Upstate New York has the biggest Black homeownership gap in the country, and with fewer people living in middle-class households, our fastest-growing demographic is the working poor.

So, our regressive property taxes are keeping people out of homeownership, adding to inequality, and shoving families out of the middle class. 

Where are those dollars going?

Roads? Not remotely. Local government spending on roads dropped 7% in real dollars over the past decade.

Schools? Another loud no. Local taxes cover roughly 40% of any school’s budget so schools in wealthy communities have more income than those in property-poorer communities. Whether in cities or rural areas, a generation of New York kids are growing up with vastly less in school resources. For years, the state didn’t follow a plan to fix this education inequity, even after a court opinion that said it must.

Mental health services? Cuts there, too, are leaving behind at-risk people, whether they’re homeless, addicted to opioids, or children suffering through two years of pandemic schooling. 

In fact, it’s galling but true that between one-third to one-half of every property tax payment leaves your county instead of staying to pay for roads, public safety, schools, and everything else the county has to provide. 

And it gets worse: In property-poor counties, this “unfunded mandate” rockets up to 89 cents on the dollar. 

What happens when this money goes to Albany instead of paying for county services? 

Well, unlike other states, New York uses property taxes to pay the private corporations profiting off Medicaid.

Here’s how Medicaid works: It’s a federal program that gets health insurance to low-income people, which in New York, is one-third of us. Half the funding comes from federal dollars. 

In most states, the state pays the rest. But in New York, Albany forces county taxpayers to cover a big chunk of Medicaid through regressive property taxes.

Let that sink in — First, we pay for a program for economically struggling families through a regressive tax that pummels economically struggling families. Second, we lose the support we need for our schools and crumbling bridges.

And third, Medicaid costs way more than it should, because huge chunks of our $70 billion Medicaid budget go to pad corporate profits. 

For years, as a supporter of single-payer healthcare, I’ve called out this problem because of the 38 states that use MCOs for Medicaid, New York is among the most expensive. Audits regularly find that this is because the private corporations are wasting the money.

Our sky-high property taxes inflate corporate profits, driving families out, closing down local farms and businesses, burdening every homeowner and renter, and siphoning money from schools, roads, and other county services.

Our region has long been dominated by Republican representation who complained about property taxes, but kept them high, even during the decades they held the Senate majority.

I’m a proud Democrat. And as your Senator, I will fight for real tax reform that cuts property taxes, demands that Wall Street pay its fair share, and gets our dollars back to real people.