Gov. Andrew Cuomo, and many state legislators, view 2011’s tax cap law as one of the crowning achievements of this administration. The law, commonly known as the 2 percent tax cap, limits local property tax increases to roughly that amount per year and requires a 60 percent supermajority to approve any increase beyond it. Unlike towns, villages and sanitary districts, to which the cap also applies, schools must get their budgets approved at the ballot box, where it’s hard to get 60 percent of voters to agree on anything.
The law is due to “sunset” in 2016, but it is a popular measure, and is tied to rent and eviction controls, which makes it unlikely to vanish. Unfortunately, even 2016 will be too late to arrest some of the deleterious effects the law is having on schools. We urge legislators to revisit it before 2016. Raising the base cap to 3 percent would bring some sanity to the proceedings, as would lowering the supermajority percentage.
There are things to like about the tax cap. In the pre-cap era, school tax hikes of 6 or 7 percent were routinely approved in an almost perpetual cycle that showed no signs of slowing. School budget elections usually attract a greater number of supporters than detractors. Parents with school-age children tend to be highly motivated and organized supporters of school budgets. People who tend to oppose increased school funding — like seniors on fixed incomes struggling to stay in their homes — are a more difficult population to mobilize at election time. The tax cap and supermajority requirement were the state’s attempt to mitigate this imbalance, and to keep Long Island’s taxes, already among the highest in the nation, from further bloating.
The tax cap is a blunt instrument, but initially it had the beneficial effect of forcing school districts to examine every line in their budgets in search of savings. As a result, a lot of wasteful spending has been cut and underutilized facilities shuttered.