The future of New York's property tax cap is of great concern to school districts, and to counties, municipalities and residents across the state.
On the scheduled, but unlikely, last day of the legislative session today, NYSUT joined an unprecedented collection of school and municipal associations, good government groups, fiscal watchdogs and civil rights organizations to propose intelligent refinements to the property tax cap.
"These changes would ensure that schools and local governments can continue to deliver the high-quality services local residents expect and deserve," said Ron Deutsch of the Fiscal Policy Institute.
NYSUT opposes the reauthorization of the tax cap in its current form without some common sense reforms. It is slated to expire a year from now, but is incongruously linked to New York City rent regulations, pending retroactive renewal this week.
"Even with this year's $1.3 billion school aid increase," said NYSUT Executive Vice President Andy Pallotta, "31 percent of the state's school districts will operate in 2015-16 with less state aid than in 2009-10 -- six years ago. In addition, state aid over the past six years has, by and large, not kept up with inflation. When adjusted for inflation, 77 percent of school districts will operate in 2015-16 with less state aid than in 2009-10," he said.
Next year, it is projected that the base tax cap, formulated from a number of factors including the rate of inflation, will be zero.
"The tax cap is unfairly limiting the ability of communities to decide how much they can choose to invest in their local schools," Pallotta said. "Without reasonable, thoughtful modifications to the tax cap - such as recognizing enrollment growth and counting capital expenses for BOCES - public schools will again be looking at cuts that erode educational quality, especially in the neediest school districts."
The groups urged legislative leaders to consider numerous modifications to the current tax cap before reauthorizing it, including but not limited to:
- keeping it temporary, rather than making it permanent;
- allowing at least 2 percent growth in the base property tax levy, and more if inflation increases in the future;
- adjusting for costs related to increased enrollment in schools;
- adjusting to allow localities to raise the revenue needed to address the effects of natural disasters /emergencies;
- excluding the capital improvement/infrastructure expenditures of local governments and school district costs for improvements to BOCES facilities, and
- changing the override provisions to allow for a simple majority override as most other states with tax levy limits do.
"Budgeting for the fourth year under the current property tax cap, we have an opportunity to make it better for citizens, the state and local governments," said Stephen Acquario, executive director of the state Association of Counties. "These are reasonable and modest reforms, and they can complement the reforms being negotiated for New York City's housing needs."
Advocates, lawmakers call for sensible charter school reform
The tax cap wasn't the only "cap" on the agenda at the Capitol this morning.
Education allies and several lawmakers were also on hand to take a stand against the governor's push to raise the cap on the number of charter schools in New York state, unveiling a petition signed by 30,000 New Yorkers calling for sensible charter school reform and accountability.
The petition stretched down the second floor hallway from the War Room to the governor's office.
"Longest petition I've ever seen!" tweeted Sen. Brad Hoylman (D-Manhattan).