Yesterday, Governor Cuomo released a video stating that NYS’s tax cap is doing its job, rolling back the average rate of increase for local levies and bringing “much-needed scrutiny to government spending.” Watch the video here.
The one thing that struck us most about the video was that it doesn’t mention mandate relief at all. The governor has recognized the need for mandate relief, even forming a mandate relief redesign team to address the issue at the state level. When he introduced the members of this team back in January of 2011 Cuomo said, “The enormous burden of unfunded and underfunded mandates is breaking the backs of taxpayers, counties and municipalities across the state… mandates are throwing budgets out of balance and sending local property taxes through the roof.”
The governor has said more recently that mandate relief is a “work in progress,” so we are hopeful that we will soon see substantive changes in this area. Mandate relief and the fair and equitable distribution of state aid would go a long way toward helping schools survive under the cap.
Here are some points in the video that we’d like to respond to. (All quotes were taken directly from the transcript of the video.)
- “The property tax cap limits increases in school and local property taxes to two percent a year, or the rate of inflation, whichever is less.” In fact, the legislation signed into law in June requires every school district/ municipality to calculate its own “tax levy limit.” Two percent (or the rate of inflation, if less) is just one of eight factors in this calculation. Here’s the formula.
- “In our schools, over the past 15 years, the number of supervisory staff has increased 34 percent.” This statistic is from the State Education Department, which refers to “supervisory staff” as “non-teaching professionals.” The numbers include student services personnel as well as administrators. SED’s records are incomplete, but over 90 percent of the non-teaching professionals added since 2001-02 are either in special education, or they are nurses, librarians, counselors, school psychologists and so on. Furthermore, the recent “At the Edge” report from NYSCOSS shows that districts cut 7.5 percent of administrative positions last year.
- “…it stops the automatic increases year after year, and it lets you decide whether a tax increase is really necessary.” School tax increases were never “automatic.” In fact, school district budgets are the most democratic of any government spending state, local or national — because they are among the only budgets that taxpayers get a say in. (Voters also get a say in library budgets and some emergency services budgets.) The third Tuesday of every May, residents decide how much their schools will spend by voting on school budgets. And as this analysis of school budget adoption trends shows, voters do think that tax increases are “really necessary”; since 1969 the statewide average for school budget passage is 84%. Last year, voters approved 93.5 percent of school district budget proposals statewide.
Here is some reaction to the video from two statewide organizations:
Obviously, there’s lots to know and understand about the new tax levy cap. We want to help our readers understand the realities of how this new law will impact schools and most importantly, the quality of the education they provide. Thus, our new feature: “Tax Cap Tuesday.” Starting this week, each Tuesday’s post will focus on a different aspect of the cap, aiming to demystify a law that turns out to be way more complicated than it appears at first blush.
Let’s ease into it, starting with this simple poll. Let us know what YOU think about the new tax levy cap!