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How parasites poison NYC suburbs’ property-tax system



How parasites poison NYC suburbs' property-tax system

The IRS extended the filing deadline for income-tax returns this year, but in New York, another tax season is now in high gear: local tax-grievance time.

Between now and mid-June, New York state homeowners will file for reductions in their property assessments, deluging local assessment-review boards in Nassau, Suffolk and Westchester Counties with appeals — many promoted by a tax-grievance industry unknown in most of the country.

The thousands of assessment challenges are part of a statewide property-tax assessment mess that is at its worst in New York City’s suburban counties.

Real-estate taxation, the main source of revenue for local governments across the United States, rests on the technical and arcane — yet crucial — process of property reassessment. When assessments are out of date or inaccurate, so are owners’ tax bills, with repercussions for both personal finance and municipal revenues.

A recent University of Chicago study of property-tax-valuation practices across the country chose to emphasize the impact of unchanged assessments on minority homeowners, who are more likely to live in lower-priced homes. In fact, out-of-date assessments skew property taxes for all homeowners.

All but nine states have laws requiring regular property reassessments, but the exceptions include one of the largest and most heavily taxed states: New York. Here, not only is reassessment not required, but also, in some places, values haven’t been reset for decades or generations. Compounding the state’s failure to enforce a uniform full-value standard, disparities arise from New York’s multiple layers of local governments.

Outside Nassau County and New York City, property assessments are determined by hundreds of individual cities and towns. To accommodate county governments (which cover multiple municipalities) and school districts (which can cover pieces of several towns), the state calculates an “equalization rate”: A rate of 25, for example, means the municipality assesses property at an average 25 percent of market value.

The purpose is to ensure that properties with similar full-market values in different municipalities pay equivalent shares of county and school taxes. In effect, however, the formula has tied individual tax bills to the sale prices of other homes in one’s community — in order to ensure that a municipality’s share of its contribution to its county tax revenue remain “equal” over time.

The result is a non-system that has led to distortions and tax injustice and spawned a cottage industry of consultants who use the courts to force assessment adjustments for individual homeowners, while pocketing a large portion of the savings for themselves.

New York localities often go decades, indeed generations, without reassessments. In an exemplary Westchester locality (where one of us sits on the local Board of Assessment Review), assessment rolls were last updated during Richard Nixon’s first term in the White House. Thus, homes that were highly valued a half-century ago but are now outdated remain stuck with stratospheric tax bills.

In counties where median property-tax bills are among the highest in the country — typically exceeding $10,000, with $100,000-plus bills not impossible — the consequent inequities can be enormous.

The lack of consistently updated assessments means that most suburban tax rates, and thus individual tax bills, get determined by that arcane “equalization” process. The state compares a sample of home sales in all of a county’s cities and towns to determine what share of county and school district property taxes each should pay.

If homes in your town sold for increased prices compared with neighboring communities, your county and school rate increases — even if the market value of your own property decreased.

No wonder local boards of assessment are hit with a tsunami of grievances, many filed by older homeowners living on fixed incomes in homes whose value has declined, yet who now must pay higher taxes. Annual tax “grievance days” occur in Suffolk County on May 18 and Westchester County on June 15.

In the absence of regular reassessments, a shadowy and parasitic group of grievance-filing firms has flourished. Often billing themselves as “real-estate consultants,” these firms are the property-tax equivalent of ambulance-chasers — charging fees up to half a homeowner’s first-year tax savings for filing challenges with local tax-appeals boards. Grievance firms build business by stuffing suburban mailboxes with promotional flyers that promise results.

Incredibly, the overwhelming majority of assessment challenges filed by and on behalf of homeowners are successful — not at the local level but in an obscure judicial venue called the Small Claims Appeal Review.

The numbers for the past decade are staggering: nearly 500,000 assessments appealed to the courts in four downstate suburban counties, with Long Island being by far the most active source of grievance.

The state does not report how many assessment-grievance cases lead to tax reductions, but assessors at the local level do. In 2019, in Westchester County’s Rye, 78 percent of small-claims property-tax appeals succeeded, leading to tax reductions of $522,000 — an average savings of more than $3,000 per property. Assuming very conservatively that property-tax grievances throughout the metro-New York suburbs saved homeowners an average of $2,000, the 10-year total savings came to $1.1 billion.

And assuming that most of those cases were filed by grievance firms, the industry’s total take was in the neighborhood of $500 million — most of it, again, on Long Island.

And when one homeowner’s tax bill goes down, the bills of others go up to ensure that the full tax levy is raised. That keeps the grievance gravy train rolling.

Sky-high property taxes add to the cost of living and doing business in New York. Over the past decade, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s cap on property-tax levies outside New York City finally has brought a measure of control to suburban tax bills. It’s time New York coupled property-tax limits with tax fairness — and joined other large states that require regular property reassessments at full market value.

Howard Husock is an adjunct scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and a contributing editor of City Journal. E. J. McMahon is the founder of and a senior fellow at the Empire Center for Public Policy. Both have served on local boards of assessment reviews. Adapted from City Journal.

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Washington Post tried to smear me for criticizing race theory and failed



Washington Post tried to smear me for criticizing race theory and failed

The Washington Post attempted to smear me, the nation’s most prominent opponent of critical race theory — and it backfired spectacularly.

The fight over CRT has consumed American media. Conservatives have rallied against the toxic neo-Marxist ideology that seeks to divide the country into the racial categories of oppressor and oppressed; liberals have defended it as a “lens” for understanding vague buzzwords such as “systemic racism” and “racial equity.”

I’ve been on the cutting edge of this battle. My investigative reporting, including columns for this paper, has exposed CRT in education, government and the corporate world. I’ve shed light on public schools forcing 8-year-olds to deconstruct their racial identities, telling white teachers they must undergo “antiracist therapy” and encouraging white parents to advocate for “white abolition.” 

These stories have attracted millions of readers, helping spark a rebellion among parents in school districts across the country — and making me a target for the woke left.

In recent months, outlets including The New York Times, The New Republic, MSNBC, CNN and The Atlantic have relentlessly attacked me. But the coup de grâce, they believed, would be a 3,000-word exposé in The Washington Post. The paper dispatched two reporters, Laura Meckler and Josh Dawsey, and spent three weeks preparing a vicious hit piece against me, accusing me of a range of intellectual crimes.

Only the Post’s story rested on a bed of lies. Among other things, Meckler and Dawsey fabricated the timeline of events surrounding my involvement with former President Donald Trump’s executive order on CRT; incorrectly claimed that a Cupertino, Calif., diversity lesson I exposed never happened; and insisted that my reporting about the US Treasury Department’s diversity programs was false.

After the article was published, I went through it line-by-line and made a point-by-point rebuttal on social media and to The Washington Post’s editors. Within 48 hours, the paper’s story had collapsed.

The paper admitted to fabricating the timeline of events, having originally claimed that a Fox News appearance I made on Sept. 1 had “soon” been followed by a visit by me to the Trump White House and thereafter by an anti-CRT memo from Trump’s budget chief (in fact, I didn’t visit the White House until Oct. 30, long after Team Trump issued the memo and an anti-CRT executive order).

Further, the paper retracted or added six full paragraphs to the story and reversed its accusation that I invented the Cupertino story. The training did, in fact, take place, the paper conceded.

As for the assertion that I made false claims about the Treasury training, the paper insisted on the absurd point that the material — which told employees that “virtually all white people . . . contribute to racism” — did not mean that “all white people are racist,” as I had reported.

This was a deep embarrassment for The Washington Post, which then attempted to hide behind vague “clarifications” and sent a vice president of communications to do damage control. But what the paper did was indefensible: It dispatched deeply partisan reporters to do a hatchet job on a fellow journalist, with no regard for the facts or probity.

Here’s the problem: I have a large social-media platform and can defend myself. But what about ordinary Americans who are smeared, slandered and degraded by hyper-partisan outlets like The Washington Post?

The episode also shed light on the bizarre determination of the prestige press to play down just how radical and fundamentally un-American CRT is. The Washington Post story framed CRT as merely an attempt to push white Americans to “confront systemic racism and white privilege in America,” to prompt a “reckoning with America’s past and present sins.”

Yeah, right. Meanwhile, in the real world, CRT trainings involve re-enacting racial segregation, only this time in the name of progress, as happened in the King County Library System (Seattle). They claim that “all white people play a part in perpetuating systemic racism,” as Buffalo students are taught. And they accuse the US education system of perpetuating “spirit-murder” against black kids.

This is far more than a healthy reckoning. It’s indoctrination in ahistorical nonsense. It’s demonizing vast swaths of America over skin color. It’s racism. Democracy does indeed die in darkness, as The Washington Post’s motto proclaims. It’s just that the paper itself helps spread much darkness.

Christopher F. Rufo is a contributing editor of City Journal.

Twitter: @RealChrisRufo

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Beijing suffocates Hong Kong’s loudest voice for liberty



Beijing suffocates Hong Kong's loudest voice for liberty

For a brief blip, there was hope that Apple Daily, Hong Kong’s pro-democracy newspaper, would be able to hold out for a bit longer against the Chinese Communist Party. This, despite the fact that the party froze the assets of its jailed owner, Jimmy Lai, under a draconian new “national-security” law.

This month, even after authorities tagged Lai’s 71 percent majority stake in Next Digital, Apple Daily’s publisher, the media company said it had sufficient funding to continue operations for at least 16 months.

Following a June 26 board meeting, however, it’s likely the paper will soon cease publication for good, according to Lai’s right-hand man and adviser Mark Simon. “It’s essentially a matter of days,” Simon told Reuters.

The ChiComs’ financial vise-grip worked. Vendors trying to deposit money into the company’s bank accounts have been rejected. And another high-up source told Reuters that the freezing of the company’s assets — sans trial or due process, naturally — has made it virtually impossible to pay wages or electricity bills.

Lai always knew things might turn out this way. When the mainland Communists and their local henchmen first attempted to pass a Hong Kong national-security law back in 2003, Lai told Simon, “If they can close Apple and Next, they will.”

“My boss Jimmy Lai has never had any illusions about the Chinese Communist Party,” Simon tells me. “Over the years, we have had hundreds of conversations about the CCP killing off Apple Daily. He said he would be there to the end. He’s in jail, so he is good for his word.”

Now that the CCP has seemingly “taken care of” its biggest enemy in the territory, Lai, it has moved to target the rest of Apple Daily, including other journalists and executives. And no wonder: Like their boss, and despite the risk of arrest and imprisonment, Apple employees have gone on shining a light into the ugly face of tyranny.

And so: On June 17, 500 police officers raided the newspaper’s offices and arrested the company’s chief executive officer, Cheung Kim-hung; chief operating officer, Royston Chow; chief editor, Ryan Law; associate publisher, Chan Pui-man; and the platform director of Apple Daily Digital, Cheung Chi-wai.

All have been arrested under the national-security law — which prohibits “collusion with a foreign country or with external elements to endanger national security” — and denied bail.

Following the arrests, Secretary for Security John Lee gave a chilling news conference, warning Hong Kongers, “If you stand with these suspects, you will pay a hefty price. You should cut ties with the suspects, or you’ll regret it very much.”

Let that seep in: If you stand for a free press and personal liberties, you will pay the consequences.

Lee added: “The suspects have been arrested on strong evidence that they’re conspiring to endanger national security. It is your choice whether you regard them as part of you . . . [or] go about your journalistic work lawfully and properly.” 

That is a threat to foreign journalists, too. If what Apple Daily does amounts to nefarious “collusion,” all Western newspapers and journalists need to be on notice.

But we still have a job to do: While Beijing squelches the truth and imprisons its tellers, we get to stand in for them. “Jimmy made it clear since 2019, we publish until they stop us by force,” Simon told me. “But no martyrs. As Jimmy said, ‘History and our souls tell us that freedom always wins. You have to be around to make that win happen.’”

While Lai and his Apple colleagues sit behind bars, it’s up to those of us in the free West to use our freedoms to speak out for them.

Elisha Maldonado is a member of The Post editorial board and a senior fellow for the Independent Women’s Forum.

Twitter: @ElishaMaldonado

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Iran just elected a mass murderer — and Team Biden wants to negotiate



Iran just elected a mass murderer — and Team Biden wants to negotiate

Doing the same thing and expecting different results is the definition of insanity — except, it seems, for the Biden administration, where such folly passes for foreign policy.

This month, President Joe Biden and his team watched as another dismally unfree election in Iran resulted in Ebrahim Raisi taking the reins as president. What to do when your signature diplomatic initiative hangs on dealing with a regime now governed by a man best known for his role in executing thousands of political dissidents in the 1980s (the female ones raped to preemptively keep them from reaching paradise)?

The answer from the White House: Tell the same old story and hope for the best.

That story, authored by former President Barack Obama, is a simple one: Either we negotiate with Tehran or we risk a total, all-out regional war.

Writing in Foreign Affairs last year, Jake Sullivan, now Biden’s national-security adviser, expressed this idea succinctly. Washington, he argued, should use “US leverage and diplomacy to press for a de-escalation in tensions and eventually a new modus vivendi among the key regional actors.”

America, he added, “has repeatedly tried using military means to produce unachievable outcomes in the Middle East. Now it’s time to try using aggressive diplomacy to produce more sustainable results.” Which, translated to real-world policies, means lifting sanctions on Iran and resuscitating the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, better known as the Obama nuclear deal.

The election of a murderous barbarian, the Smart Set in Washington insisted this week, changes none of that, largely because it’s the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and not the president, who really pulls the strings.

“Iran will have, we expect, the same supreme leader in August as it will have today, as it had before the elections, as it had in 2015 when the JCPOA was consummated for the first time,” explained State Department spokesman Ned Price. In other words, don’t look at the bloody butcher, folks — it’s business as usual with Tehran.

It’s true that the Iranian presidency is toothless, but what the Smart Set misses is that Khamenei himself is an intransigent theocrat who will never, ever surrender his regime’s hatred for the West and designs on the region. And given Khamenei’s age (82) and ailing health (he reportedly has prostate cancer), the regime is sending an unmistakable signal about its future direction by selecting a hard-liner’s hard-liner in Raisi.

More important, the choice isn’t war or appeasement. Taking office, President Donald Trump challenged his predecessor’s core assumption with a smarter approach: applying maximum pressure on the mullahs to isolate them and keep them busy dealing with a restive population.

It worked. Despite Team Obama’s dire warnings that Iran was mere months away from full nuclear capability, the mullahs didn’t build a bomb. Instead, they were consumed with popular protests in more than 200 Iranian cities, by Iranians who sensed that the Trump presidency was a vulnerable moment for their corrupt and tyrannical rulers.

Meanwhile, reassured by Washington, a host of Arab nations signed the Abraham Accords, making peace with Israel and ushering in the most promising moment the region had known in decades.

Why, then, undo what’s been working? Why the return to assumptions and ideas proved false and harmful? Why does the president tell himself and us the same bad story, even as a man sanctioned by the United States for his role in crimes against humanity takes the helm?

It’s because Obama and Biden weren’t ever interested in solving a concrete problem, like improving relations with Iran or decreasing the likelihood of an armed conflict. They were, and remain, committed to a far more audacious — and dangerous — vision, one which involves remaking the Middle East with Iran at its center.

It’s what Michael Doran and Tony Badran, two of America’s most astute Mideast analysts, called the Realignment, a doctrine focused on getting all Middle Eastern nations to, as Obama memorably put it, “share the neighborhood” with Iran, believing the regime in Tehran to be a rational one that responds to traditional incentives and can keep the region balanced in ways that benefit US interests.

Let’s hope that the presidency (and perhaps future supreme leadership) of a mass murderer can focus minds in Washington about Tehran’s realities.

Liel Leibovitz is editor at large at Tablet.

Twitter: @Liel 

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