The zero-percent tax cap proposed by the governor and passed by the state Senate would be a devastating blow to New York's public schools.
When coupled with the proposed $1.5 billion cut in state aid under the Executive Budget, the ruinous combination would inflict deep cuts to vital educational programs and services, and trigger thousands of teaching and school-related layoffs statewide at a time when districts are already already dealing with the effects of previous budget cuts.
The proposed cap would also be disastrous for the state's community colleges, which depend on local and state funding. Community college enrollment is surging and yet these essential institutions are reeling from years of underfunding. An ill-conceived tax cap would erode their county funding and threaten student access and educational quality.
Such misguided legislation would disproportionately impact low-income communities, reversing the significant progress New York has made in closing the achievement gap.
Especially troubling is that voters would lose their say on local issues pertaining to education and school-related matters. Under the bill passed by the state Senate — which will need Assembly approval to become law — districts would only be required to present voters the proposed tax levy rather than a school budget plan in its entirety. The bill requires a 60 percent approval on any tax increase above 2 percent.
A New York Times editorial (Feb. 1) called the tax cap proposal "a bad bill that promotes a bad idea. People do need property tax relief but not another state law that makes matters worse."
The New York State School Boards Association projects that passage of this shortsighted cap would result in the loss of at least $3.3 billion in local funding through the end of the 2013-14 school year. That's in addition to the $1.86 billion in state funding cuts districts have already suffered since 2008-09.
The cap could impact 13,000 jobs this year — on top of the nearly 10,000 education jobs lost to last year's budget cuts.
NYSUT has long advocated for the need for property tax relief in New York, but not at the expense of students. A recent Quinnipiac poll found that 79 percent of New Yorkers oppose funding cuts to public education — even in the midst of these tough economic times.
Local unions across the state continue to work with their communities to implement a variety of cost savings to taxpayers without undercutting essential services to students. More deep cuts jeopardize those services.
The proposed cap also gives the false notion to homeowners that their taxes will decline. While caps are structured to slow tax increases, they do not prevent tax bills from rising. Real tax relief would come in the form of circuit breaker legislation — supported by NYSUT — under which property taxes would be set on a sliding scale according to a household's income.
Tax caps have wreaked havoc on education in other states. California, for example, went from having one of the best education systems in the country to one of the worst after passing Proposition 13. New York — recognized by Education Week for achievements on multiple measures of quality — simply can't afford to let the same happen here, said NYSUT President Dick Iannuzzi.
"A zero cap," said Iannuzzi, "would be significantly more destructive to public education than any proposals circulated to date."
He said the union would work with lawmakers to seek ways to ensure a responsible state budget.
NYSUT President Dick Iannuzzi, left, meets with lawmakers, including Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther, D/C–Forestburgh, center, following Gov. Cuomo's State of the State address.