Senate change = tax cap opportunity

| NY Torch

If the Republican leaders of the newly reconstituted state Senate majority really intend to press for property tax relief before the end of session, they should start by reviving the school property tax cap.  But they should ignore the latest version of the tax cap sent up to the Legislature by Governor David Paterson.  The governor’s new program bill includes a gigantic carve-out for teacher retirement costs, which over the next few years will be skyrocketing.

A broad, tight and comprehensive limit on school tax levies should be treated as a prerequisite to any revival of the state-subsidized School Tax Relief (STAR) rebate, which is another priority of Senate Republicans.  Unlike the rebate, the cap has no budgetary impact but would increase pressure on the governor and Legislature to enact structural reforms of mandates that drive up local school costs, including pension benefits.

The best approach would be to reintroduce and approve Paterson’s original tax cap, which was taken directly from the recommendations of the Suozzi Commission.  The Senate also can seize the opportunity to introduce a separate, alternative version of the bill — one with a lower limit on annual tax levy growth (which the Paterson/Suozzi version sets at 1.2 times inflation, or a maximum of 4 percent), and less stringent signature requirements for local “under-ride” petitions to reduce the cap.

Four Democratic senators — Craig Johnson, William Stachowski, David Valesky and Darryl Aubertine — voted for the property tax cap when it was passed by the then-Republican Senate majority last August.

The best approach would be to vote on both Paterson’s original tax cap and an improved version.  The two cap bills could then be laid on the Assembly’s doorstep–and the governor’s.