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School budgets were approved at the record rate of 93.4% across the state, even though the average property tax increase was around three and a half percent, higher than the two percent property tax cap that Governor Andrew Cuomo is pushing for.
New York State United Teachers President Richard Ianuzzi says voters were willing to help make up for the $1.3 billion dollars cut from school aid in the state budget. And he says it proves that school budget voters don’t want strict limits on revenue they can collect, if it would harm education programs.
“A tax cap is the worst thing that could happen,” said Ianuzzi. “It would prevent local communities from being able to save their schools when the state fails to.”
State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos takes the opposite message from the high rate of approval for school budgets. Governor Cuomo’s proposal, which the Senate has approved, permits the 2% tax cap limit to be raised if 60% of voters say yes. Skelos says three quarters of the school budgets that passed this week were approved by over 60% of the voters, so that indicates the tax cap plan would work.
“That’s an indication that people can live with the hard cap,” said Skelos.
Ianuzzi, with the teacher’s union, counters that the highest rate of passage of the budgets occurred in wealthier school district. He says in the poorer districts, budgets were approved by just single digit margins. He says the cap could further widen the gap between rich and poor schools in the state, because wealthy district voters could afford to vote to override the cap, while poorer residents could not.
“Democracy isn’t about supermajorities,” Ianuzzi said.
Dave Albert, with the New York State School Boards Association, believes the high rate of passage of school budgets is due to school boards efforts to hold down costs and economize, and he says it shows that the current system, without a tax cap, is working.
“School boards understood that this is still a challenging economic environment, there are still many people out of work,” said Albert.
“They recognized that large tax increases were not palatable in many communities.”
He says the budgets, even with some of the increased tax levees, will still result in thousands of lay offs and program cuts. The school boards remain opposed to the tax cap, unless there is accompanying mandate relief to reign in costs set by state rules and regulations.
Governor Cuomo, on a statewide tour stop in Lake Placid to promote his legislative agenda, agrees with the school boards that schools’
efforts to cut costs resulted in the record high passage of the budgets.
“I think the message is communicating,” said Cuomo. “You saw that in a lot of these school district budgets.”
But Cuomo, like Senator Skelos, believes that’s all the more reason to enact his property tax cap.
The bill has not yet passed in the State Assembly, where Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver says he’ll introduce a counter proposal that would exempt some items, like pensions, from the cap. Senate Leader Skelos for the first time Wednesday says that he’s willing to consider changes to the tax cap plan, but says the ideas have to come from the governor first.