U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer and Representative Bill Owens (NY-23) today introduced legislation to ensure that counties are reimbursed for lost property tax revenue caused by any decision on the part of the federal government to take land into trust on behalf of Native American tribes in New York State. Schumer and Owens have both expressed their strong reservations about flaws in the land into trust process and will continue to do so. The proposed legislation is not designed to alter the land into trust process, but rather will provide residents with a baseline assurance that any future decision will not put taxpayers on the hook for millions in lost revenue. Counties in New York State face millions of dollars in lost property tax revenue if applications are approved, and that lost revenue, under current law, will have to be made up by taxpayers; Schumer and Owens are working together to prevent such a situation.
“The land into trust process has serious flaws that need to be confronted head on,” said Senator Schumer. “One of my fundamental concerns is that taking land into trust will deprive local governments of much needed revenue to pay for schools, road maintenance, and other crucial county functions, and that the gap will have to be made up by local taxpayers. This bill will ensure that counties are reimbursed for any possible property tax base loss, and provide some measure of protection against these decisions. Towns, counties, and taxpayers should not be left on the hook for millions in lost revenue due to the land into trust process, and our bill aims to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
“The federal government should be held responsible for the financial ramifications of a decision to put land into trust,” Owens said. “This bill will ensure that the burden of a land-into-trust decision no longer falls on the backs of local governments and school districts in counties like Madison and Oneida by reimbursing them for lost revenue. I thank Senator Schumer for his leadership on this issue and look forward to continuing to work with him to ensure fairness in this process.”
Under the land-into-trust policy, Indian tribes that own land that is taken into trust on their behalf no longer have to pay property taxes, creating hardship and revenue loss for school districts, county and local governments. The taxes fund budgets for schools, police, fire stations, hospitals, garbage disposal, sewers, road and sidewalk maintenance, parks, libraries, and miscellaneous expenditures. The budget gap caused by the loss of that revenue may result in less comprehensive services or increased property taxes to make up the difference. Schumer’s and Owens’s bill will require the federal government to reimburse local county governments for any lost property taxes as the result of taking land into trust, ensuring that an unfair burden is not placed on the local taxpayer. The law would apply to any land taken into trust after October 1st 2008.
Schumer and Owens said their position on the land-into-trust process has long been clear. They are skeptical of its suitability in the more populated eastern areas of the country, especially when it is opposed by a significant cross section of the community and is not compact and contiguous.
Schumer added, “When the federal government decides to take land in to trust, they owe it to local taxpayers and municipalities to make sure that decision doesn’t blow a hole in their budget. It’s the responsibility of the federal government to make those local governments whole again.”