Four years ago when legislation I co-sponsored to authorize the state’s two-percent property tax cap became law, I deemed it a common sense approach to help families and senior citizens afford to keep their homes. While the tax cap hasn’t solved all of our problems, it has been remarkably successful in encouraging spending discipline and keeping a lid on tax increases.
The property tax cap was enacted in 2011 due to senate Republican efforts to reduce New Yorkers’ tax burden. The cap limits the annual growth of property taxes levied by local governments and school districts to two percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is less. Since 2012, the vast majority of all school districts and municipalities have kept spending increases below the cap, leading to significant property tax savings for residents and businesses.
A recent report that looked at the decades-long trends of school tax increases estimates that taxpayers have saved $7.6 billion over the past three years as a result of the property tax cap. School tax levies have risen by an average of just 2.2 percent annually -- the lowest average growth for any comparable period in New York since 1982. Just think of the dire straits homeowners and small business owners would be facing if they had to forfeit those savings.
It is also important to note the that there are several other factors now at play in New York State that are working in combination with the property tax cap to help hold the line on property taxes.
The cap was created in conjunction with a commitment to continue supporting school districts with school aid increases. This year, the senate passed an on-time budget that included a $1.4 billion increase in school aid – which reflected an increase of hundreds of millions of dollars above what the governor originally proposed – to ensure that children are college and career ready. When combined with funding for STAR and Enhanced STAR payments to school districts, overall education spending will total nearly $27 billion.
One other factor that is intertwined in the discussion is mandate relief. A portion of what local governments and school districts are forced to spend their budget on is a direct result of requirements forced on them by federal and state governments. Some of these requirements simply make no sense.
I have consistently worked to eliminate and reduce mandates to help free up local dollars for local priorities. While there have been some victories on this front in recent years, I will admit that much more needs to be done. My senate colleagues and I have brought major changes to the table, but the governor and state assembly have rejected the bulk of these reforms. It is a challenge that will continue and a fight that I will not abandon.
Right now though the focus is on making the property tax cap permanent. The cap will expire next year and the state senate has already passed legislation to stop that from happening and ensure that this important tool will always be in our tool chest as we work to cut taxes, improve our state's business climate, and build upon recent economic successes.
Next we need the state assembly and the governor to join in advancing this legislation. The good news is that the governor called for a permanent property tax cap during his combination state of the state/budget address in January. Unfortunately, the assembly has failed to join the chorus – and that’s where you can help.
My website, seward.nysenate.gov, includes a simple on-line petition that will help demonstrate support for the property tax cap. If you agree that New York cannot afford to let the tax cap expire, I hope you will sign on to my “Keep the Cap” campaign. By working together, we can get the state assembly to join with us in protecting and extending the tax cap without delay.