September 4th, 2016

Guests: Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick and Executive Director of Citizen Action of New York, Karen Scharff

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Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick

Full Interview

Myrick agrees with Bill Samuels that property taxes should no longer be the basis for funding schools in New York:

“You’ve certainly hit the nail on the head. When we created these forms of government, that is, the local school districts that are funded … through local property tax, that sort of made sense because the Johnsons that lived down the street also owned Johnson’s Hardware Store, which was just up the street. … so through property taxes, you’d get enough income and you could fund world-class schools through the ’70s.

But globalization and industrialization have changed both of those things, so now Johnson’s Hardware down the street doesn’t exist anymore. It’s Walmart. … That means that the 6 people who own Walmart that all live in the same town in Arkansas, well, that school district is going to be very well funded from the taxes … on their property. But here [in Ithaca] you can’t raise from property taxes on Walmart alone … the kind of revenue you need to have good schools, to have smooth streets, to have functioning storm sewers.

So what we’ve done here is where we can to shift from taxes to fees, which is an old trick, right? A politician will say, ‘I didn’t raise taxes, I raised fees,’ and the people in the town are thinking ‘Thanks for the favor, thanks for nothing, but I’m still paying more to you for the services that we use.’ Well, what we did was not just switch from taxes to fees, but we configured those fees to be progressive. That is to say, to charge more to the people who could afford more and to give a break to the people who can’t. Property taxes are not that way, property taxes are regressive.”

Note: Myrick goes on to explain how he implemented this system with Ithaca’s storm sewer system and sidewalk repair.

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Myrick explains his support for a “yes” vote in 2017 on the New York State Constitutional Convention:

“Absolutely, I think we should, we must hold a People’s Convention. … I think there’s cause to be cautious, but not fearful. People are worried that if we hold the Convention who’s to say that the special interest groups with big money won’t find the way to write the rules at this Convention and only rig the session further for the next ten years.

But I think we’re at a unique moment. … A lot’s changed since our last Convention. There’s so much openness and transparency, in people’s participation, in any political process. That’s why you saw the rise of Barack Obama and now the rise and near victory of Bernie Sanders, because it is easier than ever for people to participate en masse and I think what you’re seeing with how our state government is currently structured is it was obviously written, it speaks more to Conventions when it was harder for people to have a voice. So I think it’s a good idea.”

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Myrick on whether he is getting enough support from Albany:

“Well, no. No, I don’t think anyone’s satisfied. In fact, I think if you asked the Governor or the Legislature one-on-one, ‘Are you supporting your cities as well as the state government should be?’ they’d all say the same thing, which is, ‘We’ve got a long way to go.’ I think I’m not naïve, but I’m not cynical.

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Executive Director of Citizen Action of New York, Karen Scharff

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