Cuomo: School tax cap working better than expected

May 7, 2012
Written by Joseph Spector,

ALBANY — Nearly 92 percent of schools are proposing budgets at or below the new property-tax cap, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo couldn’t be more pleased.

Cuomo said the cap is producing better results than he imagined. He made controlling property taxes a top issue when he took office in January 2011 because New York has among the highest taxes in the nation.

“It’s great,” Cuomo said in an interview Thursday in his office. “It’s worked better than I would have hoped.”

But school districts say the tax cap is forcing them to lay off teachers and cut programs. They said the tax cap comes after schools dealt with several years of either frozen aid or cuts.

This year, schools are getting a 4 percent increase in state aid, or about $805 million more. The state’s teachers union says the increase is still about $1.1 billion less than schools received in the 2008-09 fiscal year.

“This year, the cap is being used as hammer to force school districts to increase class sizes, lay off teachers, slash programs — or all three,” said Carl Korn, spokesman for the New York State United Teachers union.

School-budget votes across the state will take place on May 15.

Records from the state Education Department show that only 51 of 669 school districts plan to ask voters to override their tax-cap limit. A 60 percent vote is required to exceed the cap.

Cuomo and state lawmakers last year adopted a tax cap that limits the growth in property taxes to 2 percent a year. But some costs were exempted — such as spikes in pension expenses — that gave districts on average a 3 percent tax-cap limit. The average proposed tax levy increase is 2.2 percent, state data show.

Cuomo said school aid, coupled with tax increases, is growing more than the rate of inflation, which is about 2 percent.

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