July 2014
July 02, 2014

Tax cap travesty: Two budgets 'fail' with majority support

Source: NYSUT United
West Irondequoit TA President Scott Steinberg speaks with WITA member Patty O'Connor about plans to call voters to remind them to vote "YES" on the budget revote in June. Photo by Steve Jacobs.
Caption: West Irondequoit TA President Scott Steinberg speaks with WITA member Patty O'Connor about plans to call voters to remind them to vote "YES" on the budget revote in June. Photo by Steve Jacobs.

Voters across the state approved 98 percent of school budgets on the first votes in May. Of the 24 school districts that tried to pierce the undemocratic tax cap with a 60 percent supermajority vote, 14 succeeded. A total of 12 failed. Ten succeeded in recall votes.

Illustrating the tax cap's tragic irony, the two that failed to pass in revotes both received healthy majorities. West Irondequoit earned a 55 percent approval vote and Minerva 59 percent. Of course, because they were both striving to exceed the cap, the tyranny of the minority dictated that those districts will have to live with the same levy they had this year. Staff and program cuts are planned.

This is why NYSUT is challenging the tax cap in court and recently expanded its litigation to challenge the new property tax freeze. The two schemes are double trouble and discourage districts and municipalities from trying to raise needed revenue.

"Local taxpayers should be able to decide — without interference from Albany — how much they want to invest in programs for their own children in their own public schools," said NYSUT Executive Vice President Andy Pallotta. "The tax cap unfairly robs them of that choice while permitting 40 percent of the community to undemocratically dictate school spending."

The overwhelming passage rate, however, reinforces recent polling that shows people believe in their schools.

This year's state aid increase helped hold average spending increases to 2.63 percent, and the average tax levy increase to 1.98 percent for 2014-15. Still, Pallotta said, NYSUT and its local unions worked hard to pass school budgets, aided by a $200,000 statewide radio campaign.

Pallotta said a $1.1 billion state aid increase in the 2014-15 budget stopped the hemorrhaging of education professionals and school programs this year, but is still not enough to overcome the impact of state aid cuts over the past seven years.