If you’re seeing fewer residents at the polls to vote on school budgets each May, you’re not alone.
Turnout has plummeted 37 percent since 2012, the state School Boards Association said Tuesday, as voters appear complacent if their districts stay under the property-tax cap.
Turnout for last week’s school budget votes was the lowest since the tax cap was put in place in 2012 — with 50,000 fewer voters than a year ago, the group found in an analysis of state Education Department data.
The total number of votes cast statewide last Tuesday was 505,075 — a 9.5 percent drop from 2017.
Over the six-year period, the number of votes cast fell a whopping 300,000.
“Some of the drop may be blamed on the weather” this year because of heavy storms in the Hudson Valley, said Timothy Kremer, the group’s executive director.
“But it still represents a disturbing trend, since the outcomes of school budgets — and school board races — are being decided by fewer and fewer people.”
Nearly all school districts in New York, with the exception of big city school districts, hold their budget votes and elections for school board on the third Tuesday of May each year. The big city school districts don’t hold budget votes.
But when districts stay under the property-tax cap, there is often little controversy and thus fewer voters.
“I think the tax cap has induced a sense of complacency,” said E.J. McMahon, founder of the Empire Center, a fiscally conservative think tank in Albany.
“It’s seen as automatically keeping a fairly tight lid on the levy. But at the first sign of fiscal stress and added pressure for higher taxes, I’d expect turnout to rebound.”
Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state Legislature installed the tax cap in 2011 as a way to limit the growth in property taxes.
The cap limits the growth in property taxes to 2 percent a year or the rate of inflation, whichever is lower.
The cap this year was 2 percent for the first time in several years after it fell below that because of low inflation.
To exceed the tax cap, a school district has the uphill challenge of getting 60 percent of voters to agree.
That has proved difficult.
This year, voters approved nearly 98 percent of school budgets. Just 14 districts sought an override, and half of those attempts failed.
A revote for those budgets that were rejected by voters is scheduled for June 19.
"...the Empire Center is the think tank that spent months trying to pry Covid data out of Mr. Cuomo's government, which offered a series of unbelievable excuses for its refusal to disclose...five months after it (the Empire Center) sued, Team Cuomo finally started coughing up some of the records." -Wall Street Journal, February 19, 2021
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