A dodgy year for sales tax collections

New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli.

Sales tax collections are considered a go-to economic indicator, giving business and government leaders a quick look at local consumer spending and confidence. But the numbers don’t always tell the whole story.

Take 2015, for example, during which statewide sales tax collections grew by $552 million, an increase of 3.6 percent. Pretty good, right?

Actually no. $487 million of the increase occurred in New York City. Not counting NYC, the statewide increase was an anemic 0.7 percent, and 30 of the 57 non-NYC counties saw year-over-year declines, according to State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli.

Worse still: Half the NYC increase came from a redistribution of taxes that had been incorrectly paid to the state over several years. Without the redistribution, NYC’s increase was 3.7 percent.

Nassau saw an increase of 1.4 percent; Suffolk collections increased 0.9 percent.

Erie County, where the Buffalo Billion is hard at work, posted a 2.3 percent increase.

On the down side, Montgomery County (-6.7 percent) and Delaware County (-6 percent) led the way.

Of the 19 cities other than New York City having a sales tax, 10 saw a drop in collections from 2014 to 2015. Johnstown had a decline of 7.3 percent and Auburn had a dip of 5.3 percent. Conversely, Yonkers grew by 5.8 percent and Glens Falls collections increased by 5.5 percent.

What’s the take away? Not much of one. Year-over-year fluctuations and corrections make single-year readings a bit dodgy. The 2015 increase is pretty much in line with the 15-year running average, so let’s collectively stifle a yawn.

One clear truth, though: New York City remains the state’s economic engine.