A special session called by state Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos to pass a cap on school property taxes was blasted Friday by a group of senators who characterized the vote as a "political scheme" that will harm New York's public education system.
Sen. Liz Krueger, a Manhattan Democrat, said the state needs "a good, progressive tax policy so that we make sure we're not tying the hands of communities" and their abilities to provide a sound education to children.
Caps passed in others states, including California and Massachusetts, have had disastrous results on public education, leaving districts forced to contend with fiscal constraints that have repeatedly led to program and staff cuts.
NYSUT and groups such as New Yorkers for Fiscal Fairness, the Alliance for Quality Education and the state School Boards Association also have pointed out a cap would not address rising costs that are beyond the control of school districts. In fact, a cap would only exacerbate inequities behind the state's achievement gap by requiring a super-majority vote to override Albany's arbitrary limits on school spending - something more easily accomplished by more affluent communities.
Sen. Neil Breslin, an Albany Democrat, said the Republican call for passage of the cap is "just pandering to the state of New York."
Breslin said he doubts poor urban and rural districts could operate within the scope of the cap, which would limit school property tax increases to 4 percent annually. The senator said the state needs a comprehensive tax-reform plan that brings targeted relief to struggling New Yorkers, such as seniors on fixed incomes.
Breslin said he'd prefer to see the Legislature pass "circuit breaker" legislation, a NYSUT-supported measure that would hold property taxes to a percentage of a household's income.
A Siena College poll released last month showed a majority of New Yorkers favor circuit breaker legislation over a tax cap. NYSUT, meanwhile, launched a $350,000 advertising campaign last month exposing the major flaws of a property tax cap and calling on state leaders to instead pass circuit breaker legislation.
Though the Senate returned to Albany Friday, the Assembly was not called back to the Capitol by Speaker Sheldon Silver. The full Legislature is scheduled to return to Albany Aug. 19 for what Gov. Paterson has called an "emergency" economic session.
"The Republicans bringing this (cap) to the floor today, particularly when the Assembly is not called in, is a political scheme," said Sen. Kevin Parker, a Brooklyn Democrat.
Both Breslin and Parker acknowledged they were standing in opposition to a plan that was initially proposed by Paterson, the leader of their party. Still, while the senators said they believe the governor is sincere in wanting to bring tax relief to New Yorkers, they don't believe a cap is the answer.
Skelos, in an interview on an Albany radio station, admitted a cap alone is not enough to provide tax relief to New Yorkers.
Given that, Skelos said the Senate will also vote during its session on bills that aim to bring mandate relief to communities and provides incentives to school districts to consolidate services.
Get the facts on the proposed tax cap - and learn why more New Yorkers prefer an income-based 'circuit breaker' approach to property tax relief.
What is a Circuit Breaker?
Just as a circuit breaker in a home protects the electrical system from an overload, a property tax circuit breaker would protect homeowners from a property tax bill that is too high relative to their household income. When asked to choose between the two proposals, New Yorkers overwhelmingly favor the circuit breaker approach over an arbitrary property tax cap. Learn more about the circuit breaker.
The Governor's Tax Cap Proposal - Analysis
NYSUT and its coalition partners acknowledge the need for property tax relief, but an artificial cap - like the one endorsed by Gov. Paterson - would harm education programs while dooming efforts to close the achievement gap. Similar caps have failed in Massachusetts and other states because they do not address rising costs beyond the control of school districts, inevitably leading to cuts to education programs that serve children and other public services. Learn more about why a tax cap is wrong for New York.
Worksheet: The Tax Cap Impact on Your School District's Funding
Use this simple, handy online worksheet to find out how much your district would have already lost if a tax cap had been implemented in 2005. Get the tax cap numbers for your school district.