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Amsterdam, NY ,



Shifting the costs, providing the incentives

Thursday, June 12, 2014 - Updated: 7:37 AM

Yes, it is true that the state's property tax cap is no panacea; it's far from perfect.

But it also is far better than what was occurring before it was enacted in 2012. Property owners simply could not sustain the double-digit tax increases they were facing from local governments and school districts in some years.

Something had to give. With this in mind, the judicial system must see the wisdom of upholding the property tax cap as it moves through legal challenges.

Clearly as a result of the tax cap, school budgets are being passed on the first try more than ever in New York. Taxpayer backlash is not nearly what it was, but it also means fewer people are turning out at the polls for such important things as school budget votes.

The tax cap is set at 2 percent or the inflation rate, whichever is lower, but it also provides localities -- in particular school districts -- with some leeway.

Certain expenses are exempt, such as any dramatic increases in pension costs and voter-approved capital expenditures.

What's more, if 60 percent of voters agree, districts can override the parts of the budget that are capped.

After cutting back or freezing school aid, the state has stepped up the last few years, providing more money to school districts, a trend that must continue if the property tax cap is to stay in place. The state should be paying more of these expenses, but it also should be able to use incentives to get localities and school districts to stay under the cap -- and to consolidate and merge their operations as much as possible.

To that end, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the legislature have agreed to spend nearly $1 billion a year over the next two years to provide a rebate to homeowners whose local governments and schools stay within the property-tax cap. In those cases, homeowners will get rebate checks, providing a big incentive for local governments and school districts to stay under the property tax cap.

At about $19,000 per student, New York spends nearly the double the national average on education, and state residents have shown they are more than willing to do their fair share. But reasonable parameters must be set. Allowing the state to shift some of the costs off the backs of property owners while providing incentives for localities and school districts to work more efficiently are important tools. They should be built upon, not eradicated.

-- The Poughkeepsie Journal


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