New York State United Teachers, the state’s largest teachers union, argued its lawsuit against the property tax cap in state Supreme Court yesterday, Gannett’s Albany Bureau reports. NYSUT is suing Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state education department over the 2011 law that limits the annual growth in the levy to 2 percent or the level of inflation, whichever is less.
The union claims the tax cap — which was adopted in 2011 — is unconstitutional, arbitrary and perpetuates funding inequities in schools.
Richard Casagrande, NYSUT’s lawyer, said in court that the property tax cap is widening the gap between rich and poor districts, according to Gannett’s Albany Bureau. Wealthy districts can more easily override the cap and garner more revenue via property taxes than poor districts. The cap also takes away local spending control, he said.
For his part, Cuomo has said the cap has been successful in controlling the growth of property taxes. Stephen Kerwin, an assistant attorney general, said in court that the cap doesn’t limit how much a district can spend. It just needs voter approval to override the cap. He said the cap was implemented because New York has among the nation’s highest property taxes.
Governing boards can override the property tax cap on municipal budgets by a 60 percent vote. For schools, it takes at least 60 percent of voters to override it.
“It doesn’t tell a school district how much to spend,” Kerwin said. “If they get 60 percent, they can spend as much as they want.”
Justice Kimberly O’Connor asked how she could rule against federal case law that has found education is not a fundamental right. She said she would make a written ruling. Whatever she rules, the case is expected to be appealed.
Kerwin cited cases that found “education is not a fundamental right” as part of his argument for the cap. “The case law is clear. It’s not a fundamental right,” he said, “as shocking as that sounds.”
This year, 98 percent of schools and 77 percent of local governments stayed under the cap. For 2014, the cap is set at 1.6 percent, the current inflation rate.