One of the few experiences worse than paying taxes is reading about them. With this in mind, I will make a portion of the ensuing essay interactive. So have your pen and paper or your calculator at the ready.

The area of taxation, as we are all aware, breeds confusion, if not outright contradiction. For example, many people, Gov. Cuomo prominently among them, roundly criticized last year’s federal tax cut as a predictable Republican/Trumpian gift to the wealthy. In particular, they pointed to the sizable corporate tax cut. The Republicans justified this portion of the tax cut in “economic development” terms. They reasoned that as large corporations benefited from their tax cut, they would invest in equipment and facilities. They would hire more workers and increase wages. Etc. Etc.

Wonder of wonders, Gov. Cuomo was outraged at the Republicans’ evil ways. He called the tax plan “the ultimate fraud,” nothing more than a “tax cut for corporations and the rich.” Several months later, our governor handed out billions of dollars in tax subsidies to Amazon, a trillion-dollar company, and its owner Jeff Bezos, the world’s richest man. He justified this as necessary economic development that would result in huge capital investment by Amazon, increased tax revenue for the state, thousands of well-paying jobs. Etc. Etc.

Go figure.

Recently, the governor has lobbied to have the local property tax cap made permanent. Per usual with government taxation, the property tax cap involves a convoluted formula not meant for the average citizen’s understanding. Roughly speaking, it mandates that local taxing jurisdictions hold their annual property tax increase to 2 percent or the rise of inflation, whichever is lower. On the one hand, the Inquiring Taxpayer supports this effort to keep property taxes steady. On the other hand, I believe that local governance on local issues is preferable to state or federal governance. As I said, taxation breeds confusion.

While the governor’s concern for the local property owner is commendable, it would ring truer if he were not such a vocal advocate for the economic development measures that allow generous tax exemptions for many properties, some of them in the possession of relatively well-off owners.

Get your calculator ready now. As I look at the Canandaigua City School District budget, I see that roughly 30 percent of the property (by value) in the district is tax-exempt. That in itself is a major problem. In particular, one line reading “Municipal Industrial Dev. Agency” shows 24 tax-exempt properties valued at just over $69 million. The school district tax for 2019 is $19.32 per $1,000. You do the math. Figure the school taxes due on a $69 million assessment.

The school budget also indicates that payment in lieu of taxes payments in the current budget will amount to $428,000. Subtract that number from the number that you previously arrived at. Then send an email to the governor’s office asking for comment.

I have written previously about the fire sale price at which the state sold the former Smart Systems Technology Center at 5450 Campus Drive to a private firm. The facility was appraised at $7.7 million. SUNY Poly’s website stated that it had invested $39 million of public (i.e. your) money. The sale price to Akoustis Technologies was $2.75 million. Pretty good deal for someone!

But apparently not good enough. In 2018, the facility was assessed at approximately $7.3 million. Your turn again. Using the school district tax rate for 2018 ($18.66/$1,000), the county tax rate ($6.35/$1,000) and the town of Canandaigua tax rate ($1.02/$1,000), figure out the total taxes owed on a $7.3 million assessment. In actuality, Akoustis’ total tax bill for 2018 was $33,000. Compute the difference and include it in your email to Albany.

Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate the governor’s trying to hold the line on my property taxes. And I appreciate his sincere concern with Donald Trump’s undisclosed tax returns. But I’d like to hear him question that sale of the STC facility. And I’d love to hear some of his vaunted righteous indignation aimed at the owners of Eastview Mall and Pinnacle North and Amazon and Akoustis Technologies, telling them to suck it up and pay the same tax rate as the little guys pay. Heck, if that were the case, he might even get these big fish to fight alongside the little fish in support of the 2 percent property tax cap.

The reality is that many big fish get generous tax breaks that make the tax cap an inconsequential item for them. They are spared millions of dollars in taxes. The little fish are supposed to be grateful that their property taxes can rise by only about 2 percent annually. Of course, since little fish never receive PILOTS or “assessment certainty” deals such as that gifted to Pinnacle North last year, a hiked assessment may, in any given year, put an asterisk next to the tax cap promise. Tough luck, little fish.

Many Americans like to pride ourselves in the elusive ideal that all citizens deserve equal treatment in the public arena. Unfortunately, no area of American life does more to discredit that ideal than our labyrinthian tax game. Each loophole and carve out and preferential tax break for a private interest puts another dagger into the presumption of equal treatment. You know it and I know it and those who play the game know it. No calculator needed.

Joe Nacca of Canandaigua is a frequent contributor to the Daily Messenger.