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We’ve tried to be extremely reasonable. We aren’t going for the Wisconsin, nuclear war approach.

Tax cap could prompt union, management clash

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The prospect of a property tax cap could heighten tensions between workers and management at public schools in the state, as both sides gear up to fight over shrinking revenues and resources.

Karen Dewitt reports from Albany.

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Karen DeWitt
NYS Capitol Correspondent

If the two percent across-the-board property tax cap tentatively agreed to by Governor Cuomo and legislative leaders becomes law, teachers and their union anticipate competition with school boards over dwindling resources.

The tax cap proposal, which would limit spending to two percent per year or the rate of inflation, whichever is lower, comes after three consecutive years of school aid cuts, with $1.3 billion dollars sliced from school funding in the current fiscal year.

Tim Kremer, with the New York State School Boards Association, said as funds are cut, school boards are facing climbing costs that they have absolutely no control over, including special education, energy costs, pension and health care expenses: “cost drivers that are significantly higher than two percent or the rate of inflation."

Kremer said there may be a silver lining to the tax cap, though; it could force changes in state mandates on health care and pension payments that legislators have long resisted.

The president of New York State United Teachers, Richard Iannuzzi, said the so-called mandate relief too narrowly focuses on worker and union concessions, and services for special needs children. “They seem to be the only ones that anyone wants to talk about,” said Iannuzzi. “Both of those are offensive. Both of those are unacceptable.”

Kremer, with the School Boards Association, said that if everyone sacrifices a bit, all will benefit because jobs can be preserved.

School boards are also seeking changes to "last in, first out" hiring practices, and an end to a provision known as the Triborough Amendment, which states that when a union contract expires, the terms of the old contract continue. School boards say the Triborough Amendment gives union leaders less incentive to settle a contract quickly.

Public worker unions point out that they are not allowed to strike, so need some protections. Kremer said the school boards have stopped far short of demanding what officials in some other states have done, an end to collective bargaining.

“We’ve tried to extremely reasonable,” said Kremer. “We aren’t going for the Wisconsin, nuclear war approach.”

Governor Cuomo, who has made the tax cap one of his top priorities, says he will introduce a mandate relief bill soon.

“We’re having conversations with the Assembly and Senate on mandate relief,” said Cuomo.

The governor has also commissioned a task force, though an initial report in early March contained few suggestions, but he said they are “working diligently” and will come up with more ideas in the near future.

There is no scheduled vote yet for a tax cap bill, and NYSUT has begun a TV ad campaign.

“It’s nothing more than a political crutch that hurts kids, schools, and families,” a narrator intones, quoting from a recent New York Times editorial that panned the tax cap proposal.

The governor and legislative leaders say that a tax cap bill will be released, shortly.

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