While he carefully avoids a flat rejection of the idea, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has been expressing doubts about Governor Eliot Spitzer’s proposal for a cap on school property taxes.

As reported in today’s Schenectady Daily Gazette:

Silver, D-Manhattan, told a state Conference of Mayors meeting that Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s proposed state budget is a good start, but the Assembly majority has concerns about it. “High among those concerns,” he said, “is the governor’s proposal for a property tax cap.”

Silver said he is worried about the cap limiting revenues needed for important goals such as universal pre-kindergarten programs and reducing class size, and making good on the state’s commitment to fund the settlement of a lawsuit mandating increases in funding for New York City schools.

Silver also expressed concerns about caps limiting revenue for other worthy government programs helping the poor, sick and elderly, and wondered where the state would find extra money if a commission appointed by Spitzer to study the issue just proposes shifting costs to the state.

But such concerns were nowhere in evidence when a sweeping proposal to tightly cap annual growth in all local property taxes in New York was first introduced in the Legislature —by none other than Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.

It was 1995, and legislative Democrats were resisting a huge cut in state personal income taxes proposed by newly elected Republican governor, George Pataki.  One of the arguments used by Silver and other income tax cut critics was that it would result in a “tax shift” from the state to the local level.  To prevent this from happening, Silver proposed the Real Property Tax Limitation Act (A.6171 of 1995-96).

As explained in this press release issued by the speaker’s office on March 14, 1995, the bill “would allow local revenues from the real property tax to grow at no faster than the annual inflation rate as reflected in the Consumer Price Index.”  The bill hinged on a maintenance-of-effort provision: the cap would remain in effect only as long as state aid was not reduced.  Local government officials could vote to exceed the limit, but only in “extraordinary circumstances” after a public hearing, the speaker said.

The property tax cap was passed by the Assembly but was never taken up by the Republican Senate majority.

Two years later, Pataki proposed an inflation-linked annual cap on school property tax levies as part of his original STAR (School Tax Relief) plan.  In the face of strong opposition from the statewide teachers’ union, New York State United Teachers (NYSUT), the governor stripped the cap provision from the bill before it was enacted.  His subsequent, half-hearted attempts to resurrect the cap proposal in different forms were rejected out of hand in the Legislature.

Spitzer has now assigned a special commission headed by Nassau County Executive Thomas Suozzi, to recommend a cap on school property taxes and to study other property tax and local finance issues.

About the Author

Tim Hoefer

Tim Hoefer is president & CEO of the Empire Center for Public Policy.

Read more by Tim Hoefer

You may also like

DiNapoli Predicts $3.8B More in State Tax Receipts

New York State's tax receipts in the current fiscal year will exceed Governor Cuomo's latest projections by $3.8 billion—still down from last year, but a big improvement over the governor's worst-case scenario—according to updated estimates from state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli's office. Read More

With Hopes Dashed for “Blue Wave” Bailout, Cuomo Needs to Deal With Budget Shortfall

With the national election results still unclear, Governor Cuomo can no longer put off tough decisions on how to balance New York's pandemic-ravaged state budget. Read More

For State Lawmakers, Secrecy May Pay

New York state legislators may get a raise on January 1, 2021—but the people who elect them may not get to find out before voting ends next week. Read More

In Pandemic Recovery, New York’s Tax Base Is More Fragile Than Ever

New York's exceptionally wealthy state tax base is also exceptionally fragile, due to its heavy dependence on the highly volatile (and portable) investment-driven incomes of Wall Street workers and fund managers. Read More

Not a Moment Too Soon, Bill de Blasio Is Setting a Good Fiscal Example

After months of flailing, floundering and stalling on desperately needed cuts to New York City's pandemic-ravaged budget, Mayor de Blasio just made a smart and appropriate move to save money—in the process defying one of New York's most powerful government employee unions. Read More

What a New Jersey “Millionaire Tax” Really Means for New York

Hoping to jumpstart a bandwagon effect, advocates of soak-the-rich tax hike proposals in New York State are hyping a tax increase in New Jersey as evidence that New York needs to do the same. Read More

On Measuring School Quality, Education Week Misses the Mark

Education Week’s rankings do not measure what counts. New York’s substandard achievement coupled with highest-in-the-nation spending and above-average wealth means that when it comes to school quality, New York fails to pass the mark. Read More

Even After Aid Cut, New York Will Spend Most on Education

If New York was a country in 2016—the most recent year for global education spending data—it would have boasted the highest per pupil expenditure in the world, even after subtracting 20 percent of state aid. Read More


Sign up to receive updates about Empire Center research, news and events in your email.


Empire Center for Public Policy
30 South Pearl St.
Suite 1210
Albany, NY 12207

Phone: 518-434-3100
Fax: 518-434-3130
E-Mail: info@empirecenter.org


The Empire Center is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit think tank located in Albany, New York. Our mission is to make New York a better place to live and work by promoting public policy reforms grounded in free-market principles, personal responsibility, and the ideals of effective and accountable government.