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Thereís no question that thereís a train that has left the station. Itís going down a reckless track that is not good for the children.

Educators and school boards speak out against property tax cap

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State lawmakers are close to approving a cap on property taxes in New York, but the groups most impacted say they are still trying to change what they see as the most potentially harmful parts of the package. Karen DeWitt reports.

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Karen DeWitt
NYS Capitol Correspondent

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Governor Andrew Cuomo spoke for the majority of New Yorkers, at least according to the polls, when he said the tax cap agreement, if enacted, will “change the trajectory of this state” and help alleviate a major worry for many of the state’s homeowners and businesses.

“I can’t tell you how many times someone has come up to me and said ‘you have to do something about this, I just can’t afford to stay in my home anymore’,” Cuomo said. “It is one of the taxes that has been forcing people from this state, and businesses from this state.”

But those who will be most responsible for implementing the cap foresee complications and some negative consequences.

The President of the teachers union, New York State United Teacher’s Dick Iannuzzi says the cap will have a devastating effect on schools.

He says he knows it’s too late to stop the momentum for a cap, but says the union is seeking to change what they consider to be the more “draconian” aspects of the cap.

“There’s no question that there’s a train that has left the station,”

Iannuzzi said. “It’s going down a reckless track that is not good for the state of New York, not good for its children.”

Iannuzzi says the cap, which will be limited to 2% or the rate of inflation, whichever is lower, would actually represent 0% property tax growth, if just 40% of voters say no to a school budget. That’s because the proposal would require 60% “supermajority” of voters to approve any tax levy that is higher than the 2% limit.

“There’s something terribly undemocratic about that,” said Iannuzzi.

Iannuzzi says his own members worry about their property taxes too, but he says there are better options, like finding other sources of revenue that are more equitable, including preservation of a temporary income tax surcharge on millionaires that expires in December.

“The answer is not a gimmick that does nothing for education,” he said.

The New York State School Boards Association also has concerns about the tax cap. The School Board’s Tim Kremer says without accompanying relief from some costly state mandates, it’s going to be hard for schools to manage the reduction in revenue. He says “cost drivers”

like special education, energy, and  pension and health care payments, are rising faster than the rate of inflation.

Kremer says school boards also have questions about how a district would manage if enrollment suddenly jumped, and whether schools would then be able to seek an exemption from the 2% tax increase limit.

He says in the future, schools will have to look at things differently. He says now the first question will be, what is our budget, and can we really afford this?

“We’re not going to be as flexible and open minded,” said Kremer.

He says programs that involve innovative technology or other new ideas may have to be sacrificed.

Both groups will continue to lobby lawmakers in the remaining weeks of the legislative session to try to seek  changes to the final tax cap bill. The teacher’s union has been helpful to lawmakers seeking re-election , by providing money and troops for phone banking and other get out the vote efforts. Ianuzzi says NYSUT will not campaign against lawmakers who vote for the cap, but he says they won’t be opening their piggybank for tax cap supporters in the 2012 elections, either.

 

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