New York State United Teachers, the state’s largest union, filed a lawsuit today challenging the state’s property-tax cap, which was enacted in June 2011. The lawsuit is an attempt to protect public schools and students from inadequate education funding. The state caps the increase in property property-tax levies each year to 2 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is lower.
The union claims the cap is unconstitutional because it arbitrarily caps hikes and “locks in and perpetuates funding inequities between affluent and low-wealth school districts,” according to a statement. It limits the ability of school districts and taxpayers to address the inequities by deciding how much they want to spend on schools. NYSUT also alleges that the 60 percent supermajority required to override the tax cap is unconstitutional.
“We believe very strongly in the principle that every student, no matter where they live or go to school, should have the opportunity to receive a quality public education,” NYSUT President Richard C. Iannuzzi said in a statement. “In challenging the constitutionality of the tax cap, we are fighting for that principle, just as we are fighting for the democratic principles of ‘one person, one vote’ and for the right of citizens, through local control of their schools, to determine for themselves how much they want to spend on their own community’s schools.”
Iannuzzi said the cap is “exacerbating glaring inequities in funding while pushing many school districts to the brink of educational and financial insolvency.”
The state should “dramatically” boost education spending and implement circuit-breaker legislation, which would provide tax relief when property taxes increase beyond a homeowner’s ability to pay, he said.
The lawsuit points out that the state has not lived up to its agreement in 2007 to address the decision in the Campaign for Fiscal Equity school-funding case by investing $7 billion in additional state aid to low-wealth school districts. The state pulled back on funding do to the budget and economic crises. That pushed more education costs to local taxpayers, according to NYSUT. Current state education aid is virtually flat compared to the 2007-08 fiscal year.
The suit also claims school district budget voters and education aid are treated unequally compared to municipal funds. Local governments can override the cap by a vote of the governing body, while school districts have to put the issue to voters.
“The tax cap is another part of the state’s ongoing failure to provide the funding necessary for all New York children to receive a constitutional, sound, basic education, as determined by the Court of Appeals in the landmark CFE ruling,” David Sciarra, executive director of the Education Law Center, said in a statement. “The hard 2 percent cap has its harshest impact on high-need school districts, deepening the cuts in core staff, programs, and services made over the last several years.”