Politics

NY state bill could bring bigger tax bite to golf clubs, including Trump's Briarcliff course

Key Points
  • Two Democratic lawmakers in New York state propose legislation that could take a financial bite out of private golf clubs, including Trump National Golf Club Westchester in Briarcliff Manor.
  • The legislation would allow local assessment of golf courses to be based on the "highest and best use rather than its current use."
  • The 140-acre club in Briarcliff — a property President Donald Trump bought in the 1990s — faces an ongoing legal dispute on taxes dating back to 2015.
  • The New York State Club Association warns that the proposed legislation could be a job killer.
President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with Egypt's President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, April 9, 2019.
Kevin Lamarque | Reuters

Two Democratic lawmakers in New York state proposed legislation that could take a financial bite out of private golf clubs, including Trump National Golf Club Westchester in Briarcliff Manor.

The legislation would allow local assessment of golf courses based on the "highest and best use rather than its current use." It comes as the 140-acre club in Briarcliff — a property President Donald Trump bought in the 1990s — faces an ongoing legal dispute on property taxes dating back to 2015.

New York Assemblywoman Sandy Galef, D-Ossining, is the author of the legislation, Assembly bill A6444. Sen. David Carlucci, D-Rockland/Westchester, is the key sponsor of the state Senate version, S4420.

A rally was held Sunday outside Trump National's Briarcliff golf club where about 45 supporters gathered. Some held up signs, including one that read "Pay Your Taxes Trump" and another, "Play Fairways, Pay Fair Taxes."

"Right now, unfortunately, we have a few golf courses that are taking advantage of a loophole in New York state law that allows for golf courses to be assessed as if they were a municipal course," Carlucci told CNBC. He said the current assessment "doesn't take into consideration other factors, like a beautiful club house on the property, etc."

Carlucci called Trump National's Briarcliff golf club "one of the most egregious cases" he's seen of private courses filing questionable tax grievances with towns. He said these grievances go back many years and have the potential to cost communities "hundreds of thousands of dollars" in tax revenues, including money needed for schools.

Donald Trump and former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani (right) chat as Judith Giuliani (2nd left) has a peek at the first sign of Melania Trump's baby while at the Trump National Golf Course in Westchester. They hosted a golf outing to raise money for people in need of emergency care as part of the Hurricane Katrina relief efforts.
David Handschuh | New York Daily News | Getty Images

As a presidential candidate, Trump listed in a financial disclosure that the 18-hole Briarcliff golf club was worth about $50 million in 2016. But when it came time to pay property taxes, his business team claimed the property was worth only $1.5 million in 2016. It also was widely reported in 2015 that the golf club sought to slash its property tax assessment by 90%, from $471,000 to about $47,000.

During testimony in February before the House Oversight Committee, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-New York, questioned Trump's former attorney Michael Cohen about the president's golf clubs and taxes. She asked him about the case of Trump National Golf Club in Jupiter, Florida, reportedly lowering its value to get local authorities to reduce the tax burden.

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Rep. Ocasio-Cortez questions former Trump attorney Michael Cohen

"It is identical to what he did at Trump National Golf Club at Briarcliff Manor," Cohen responded during his televised congressional testimony. Cohen also said during the hearing, "It was my experience that Mr. Trump inflated his total assets when it served his purposes, such as trying to be listed among the wealthiest people in Forbes, and deflated his assets to reduce his real estate taxes."

The Trump Organization and the Trump National Golf Club Westchester didn't respond to multiple requests for comment for this story.

However, the New York State Club Association told CNBC in a statement that the proposed legislation could be a job killer and could increase taxes 4 to 10 times for private golf clubs throughout the state. The association represents 250 private golf clubs throughout the state and an additional 50 private clubs which do not include golf.

"This increase could cause 30% of NYS golf and country clubs to close within five years and thousands of employees to lose their jobs," Charles Dorn, the association's president, told CNBC in an emailed statement. "There will be a loss of business in the local community to vendors and service providers."

Dorn warned that local municipalities would get no tax revenue from closed clubs. He also said there could be ramifications for upstate New York courses where the golf season tends to be shorter.

"This is a bad bill with everyone losing in the end," Dorn wrote.

But Carlucci said the "loophole" must get fixed because it's unfair for communities and residents.

"Local property taxpayers will have to be paying more, and our students will get less money for their educational purposes," said Carlucci. The lawmaker said Westchester County, part of his district, already has the highest property taxes in the nation.

Carlucci said the financial consequences of not acting now could be significant down the road.

"We're very concerned that not only are we paying the price now with having to undervalue these properties," he said, "but also, municipalities ... are going to start to see a wave of these retroactive tax grievances filed against them, to the tune of millions of dollars in more property taxes that homeowners will have to pay."