As the state legislative session draws to a close, Gov. Cuomo and the state Democratic Committee are launching an online media campaign to push for an extension of his landmark property-tax cap.

It’s easy to understand why: Unlike many highly touted policy reforms, the tax cap’s actually working.

Which is why it should be made permanent.

Even adjusting for low post-recession inflation rates, property-tax increases since the cap took effect in 2012 have fallen significantly below long-term averages in every region of the state outside New York City (where the cap doesn’t apply).

The 2 percent cap on annual local property-tax levies, which Cuomo got through the Legislature five years ago, has had an especially dramatic impact on school taxes, which account for the lion’s share of New York’s exceptionally high property-tax bills.

In the 30 years before the limit took effect, school-tax levies grew at an average annual rate of 6 percent, nearly twice the average rate of inflation and even faster than the state’s total tax collections during that period.

But school taxes under the cap have risen by an average of just 2.2 percent a year, including allowances for voter-approved debt and new construction. Compared to previous trends, taxpayers have already saved billions.

In fact, not counting new taxes generated by property improvements, inflation-adjusted school-tax levies have decreased since 2012.

Because it holds down taxes across the board — for businesses, landlords and homeowners alike — the tax cap has a broader economic impact than targeted, state-funded rebates.

There’s just one problem: The tax-cap law is temporary, thanks to former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who rebuffed Cuomo’s effort to pass a permanent cap.

A convoluted provision says the cap will remain in effect as long as the state laws regulating city apartment rents are renewed beyond their expiration date, which next pops up in just two weeks.

Although important details aren’t settled, it seems likely the rent-control and rent-stabilization laws will be extended beyond their scheduled June 15 expiration. In that case, the tax cap automatically will be extended for at least the same length of time.
But the cap’s long-term survival isn’t assured. As long as it’s not permanent, the cap could be indirectly killed through manipulation of New York City rent laws.

Future governors will need Assembly and Senate cooperation to keep the cap in place a step ahead of the rent-law schedule — but, in a few years, both houses could be dominated by New York City Democrats uninterested in keeping the cap alive.

Wildly popular with the public, the tax cap is resented by public-employee unions — and loathed, especially, by the powerful New York State United Teachers, which has mounted a (so far) unsuccessful court battle to have the cap ruled unconstitutional.

County and municipal officials also want to drill more loopholes in the cap, claiming it isn’t flexible enough to allow for special needs and circumstances.

But the cap isn’t rigid: It can be overridden by a 60 percent vote of a locality’s governing body.

In the case of school districts, an override requires approval by at least 60 percent of the district residents voting in a budget referendum.

During the cap’s first three years, voters in 79 districts — 12 percent of the total — approved at least one override. This year, 11 out of 18 proposed school tax overrides were approved.

Cuomo has pledged to seek enactment of a permanent cap, and the Republican-controlled state Senate last month passed a bill erasing the tax cap’s sunset clause (with support from all the Democrats representing districts outside New York City).

But under Silver’s successor, Speaker Carl Heastie of The Bronx, Democrats remain the chief obstacle to making the cap permanent.

The end-of-session scramble will give the governor, backed by the Senate, optimal leverage to insist that the Silver sunset is removed.

To protect future taxpayers and to ensure his own legacy, Cuomo needs to remove any doubt that New York’s property-tax cap — with no added loopholes — is here to stay.

About the Author

E.J. McMahon

Edmund J. McMahon is Empire Center's founder and a senior fellow.

Read more by E.J. McMahon

You may also like

Questions on Cuomo’s COVID memoir need answers

As New York marks the third anniversary of the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, questions about how state leaders handled the crisis keep piling up. The latest disturbing revelation concerns the memoir that Andrew Cuomo published in October 2020. Read More

Kathy Hochul’s call for 5.4M Republicans to leave New York is dangerous and disgusting

Gov. Kathy Hochul, who hasn’t proven shy about issuing orders, had one for the state’s Republicans this week Read More

Kathy Hochul will have to prove she can hold the line on state spending

Hochul’s specific priorities were lowest-common-denominator stuff: “combating” the spread of COVID-19 linked to the Delta variant, pushing billions in stalled federal rent relief out the door to tenants (and ultimately their landlords) and “beginning to change the culture in Albany.” Read More

Nursing Cuomo’s broken trust: Kathy Hochul’s responsibility on COVID and long-term care

One of the most urgent imperatives confronting soon-to-be Gov. Kathy Hochul will be getting real about the state’s pandemic response Read More

Calling Tax Cut “Theft,” Cuomo Continues to Push For Federal Bucks With Phony Math

The results of this week’s Georgia Senate runoffs, assuring Democrats will soon control both houses of Congress, as well as the White House, had to come as a huge relief to Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Read More

How a Blast From the Past Could Save NYC Again

Forty-five years ago this month, then-Gov. Hugh L. Carey and the state Legislature passed a landmark law, the Financial Emergency Act, designed to rescue Gotham from imminent bankruptcy. Read More

The Numbers Debunk Cuomo’s SALT Gripes

For the better part of three years now, Gov. Cuomo has been pounding SALT — the federal income-tax deduction for state and local taxes. Read More

Washington shouldn’t fund NY’s “normal” budgets

With the coronavirus lockdown continuing to erode tax revenues, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has turned up the volume on his demands for a federal bailout of the New York state budget. In a weekend briefing, the governor repeated his estimate that the Empire State will need help closing a deficit of $10 billion to $15 billion. “I don’t have any funding to do what I normally do,” he said. Read More