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Governor Cuomo has made the tax cap a top priority and plans to promote it in a statewide tour that begins in a few days. He says it’s a simple proposition.
“All this means is we should impose fiscal discipline on local government in the state,” said Cuomo. “That’s all it means.”
The governor’s proposal allows a town or school district to override the cap if 60% of the voters say yes in a special election.
But the State School Boards Association says it’s not that easy. The group’s Tim Kremer says the limits won’t work without relief from some mandates that he says have are prevent them from cutting costs.
He says schools already suffered reductions in the state budget.“You’re holding us hostage here,” Kremer said.
School boards say if there’s tax cap, then there should also be a cap on how much school districts, as employers, have to pay for teachers and other employees’ health. Currently school districts pay around 90% of the cost of individual plans and 80% of expenses for family plans. They would like to cap that at 85% of costs for individual health care polices and 75% for family plans.
The school boards would also like to do away with some major rules, like the Triborough Amendment, which says the terms of an old contract stay in place if the deadline is missed for a new contract and bargaining continues. And they back New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s push to end the last in first out hiring policy when there are lay offs.
Kremer says even simple money saving steps like bulk purchasing is constrained by endless regulations.
“Think of the difference between Amazon.com and the Montgomery Ward catalogue,” said Kremer. “That’s kind of how we are operating these days.”
Governor Cuomo authorized a panel to recommend mandate relief steps that the governor and legislature could take. The group reported in early March, but found few things they could agree on and instead recommended a freeze on new mandates and that an Office of Mandate Reform be created.
Assembly Democrats will release their own bill on a tax cap soon, and while details are not yet public, there’s been talk by some lawmakers of exemptions to the cap, such as pension costs and health care.
Kremer says his group doesn’t want those exemptions. He says then school boards will be blamed if pensions and other exempted costs keep increasing at the current high rate.
Kremer says with or without the tax cap, many school districts can scrape by this year, drawing on reserves and economizing by sharing services and winning union concessions. But he says without more money and mandate relief soon, they will reach a crisis.
“There will come a time when we are going to have to have significant spending cuts that will result in program cuts and lay offs,” said Kremer. “Because we just won’t have anywhere else to turn.”
Voters in New York will weigh in on school budgets on May 17th , when most of the state’s over 700 school districts put their spending plans on the ballot.
Kremer says a survey by the School Boards Association finds that the average rate of spending increase is just under 2%, and the average tax increase sought is nearly three and a half percent, above the 2% limit that the governor says he is seeking.