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Opponents Spar With De Blasio Over High Property Taxes

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- The issue of property taxes exploded in the New York City mayoral debate this week.

As CBS2's Dick Brennan reported, Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio and his Republican challenger, Nicole Malliotakis, were at each other's throats over the current system and whether it needs changing.

It seems many critics feel the property tax system in New York is unfair and that it benefits the wealthy. The other candidates in the race say Mayor de Blasio himself is one of the biggest benefactors.

At the debate with Malliotakis and Independent Bo Dietl on Wednesday night, Mayor de Blasio touted his plan for a millionaires' tax to draw revenue for repairing and upgrading the subway system.

But Malliotakis said the mayor's call for a millionaires' tax is hypocritical when his own house is worth $3.6 million and "lower income earners and middle class homeowners" are "subsidizing" his property taxes.

De Blasio took Malliotakis to task for the comment about his house, noting that he bought his family's Brooklyn home a long time ago and did not expect it to appreciate in value to the degree that it has. As de Blasio spoke, Dietl mockingly said to him, "You're a millionaire!"

De Blasio then asked if Malliotakis herself would support his plan for a millionaires' tax for subway upgrade funding.

"I support you, millionaire Bill, paying more property taxes," she said. "That's what I support."

De Blasio said of the current property tax situation: "Values of homes have gone up. That's crucial. Values of homes have gone up. That has been what is causing so much of the impact."

Indeed values have gone up on de Blasio's homes. But Malliotakis said de Blasio is not nearly paying his fair share in property taxes. She said she pays more than he does for a house worth far less.

"He has a home of $1.9 million and pays $3,500 in property taxes," she said. "I have a home, upper middle class – people have homes worth $550,000, and I pay $5,500."

The reason is that the city has a 6 percent cap on property taxes maximum. Thus, the value of homes like the mayor's soars, his property tax does not.

Even if values double or triple, property taxes do not.

The mayor himself said he believes things must change.

"We need a major overhaul of the system," de Blasio said. "I'm ready to do that."

But Erik Engquist of Crain's New York Business questioned de Blasio's commitment.

"We should take that with a grain of salt, because early in his first term, he said he would like to do this later in his first term – and he never did," he said. "It's a kind of thing that is really easy to put off and then just never get to."

Engquist said there is a good reason for that – changing the system would make a lot of voters unhappy.

"This is a political third rail in New York City," he said. "If he makes this change to make them fair, he's going to have to raise property taxes for single-family homeowners – and they are the strongest voting bloc in New York City. People like him in his neighborhood – his neighbors – he doesn't want them screaming at him."

The mayor, for his part, said Assemblywoman Malliotakis has done nothing in Albany to change things. Now, a lawsuit is pending that theoretically at least could lead a judge ordering a change to the property tax law – if politicians don't do it first.

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