Death and Taxes in New York



Written by: Bill Colley

When I was a kid in rural Upstate New York it was common for the older folks to say the state had the highest taxes in the Union.  It was only natural I would repeat the claim and especially after I watched the human and material contents of entire neighborhoods pack and move south and southwest.  As a budding news reporter I once repeated the belief to a small town lawyer practicing a few blocks from where I grew up.  Mr. Serra, a Democrat, smiled and insisted Arizona had the nation’s highest taxes.

There weren’t many Democrats in my part of New York State and I’m sure Mr. Serra, a vocal supporter of the then first term Governor Mario Cuomo wanted to make an impression on a young man he’d known since the reporter was a boy.  I also think he believed his sales pitch.  Democrats were so rare in Allegany County they had to be decent and honest to succeed in business and law.  It’s just Mr. Serra didn’t say what taxes were highest in Arizona.  For all I know Arizonans paid the highest hair cutting tax in America but kept the remainder of their incomes.  It’s how advertising works.  When I was competing against a behemoth of a TV news department some years later my competition always mentioned it had been honored with a first place New York State Associated Press Award.  True, it wasn’t a lie.  A decade earlier the competition had been awarded first place in some minor feature category.

Mr. Serra was a very old man when he told me the fact in 1986.  Mario Cuomo was re-elected and would serve another 8 years as captain of a sinking ship.  I would spend 44 of my first 45 years in New York State and then flee for Southern Delaware.  The old lawyer is probably dead and the once vibrant Main Street where he worked is now a ghost town.

My current liberal Governor is asking for raises for his cabinet secretaries and for judges across our three county stretch of paradise.  The argument is the actual figure won’t be more than a drop in the bucket in the overall state budget.  A newspaper calculated the other day the average Delawarean is going to lose 700 dollars this year with the restoration of the payroll tax.  Gasoline is again approaching three and a half dollars a gallon and I bought bread at the store the other day for the first time in several months and simply had no idea how high the price has climbed.  Topping it off today I read a headline in Drudge and just moaned.  Congressional Democrats want to raise one trillion dollars in “revenue” this year.  My insurance cost is skyrocketing and as a portly 50 year old I’m not only worried about the future of my children but as well where in the woods I’ll be living when I retire.  I’ve been thinking of trying the Paleo-Diet and now realize scavenging road kill and currants may be my future.  And now I’ve got to share even more of my earnings with the commissioner of a natural resources department who would forbid me toileting in the great outdoors when I’m old, toothless and homeless and foraging for roots and bark to gum.

My apologies for rambling in my advancing age but today I received a portion of a friend’s county tax bill.  He still lives in rural Upstate New York and along the lovely shores of Lake Ontario.  He emailed a snippet of the document and I’ve enclosed it as an illustration.  I realize everyone needs a lawyer but as you can see his small county (by population) is paying a big tab for public defenders.  It’s the kind of work I believe Mr. Serra did when I was a boy although I can’t speak from a client perspective.  I do know cold and hungry and unemployed people sometimes do desperate things and then they need representation.

Did you read the entire portion in the tax bill about state mandates?  Just five of dozens eat up all tax revenue collected by the county.  Unlike the federal government the county can’t print money.  Unless, I suppose, it secedes.  For a time it would be a lonely existence but I think eventually the people of the lake shore would find much company.  Doncha think?