There’s a new governor with a very familiar name up in Albany, and he’s saying all the right things about the heavy — and growing heavier all the time — property tax burden Long Islanders carry.
“This state has no future if it is to be the tax capital of the nation,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo, son of former Gov. Mario Cuomo, said during his recent inaugural. He wants the state Legislature to enact a 2 percent cap on annual property tax increases. The governor renewed that call during his first State of the State address Wednesday.
What’s not to like about a property tax cap? With business down, salaries flat and costs continuing to rise, don’t home and business owners deserve a break?
Of course, but let’s not forget that pesky law of unintended consequences.
Bear in mind that roughly two-thirds of the local property tax goes to the schools. It’s on that line where there’s the most to gain — and lose. One reading of the governor’s proposal would require school districts that can’t otherwise bring their tax warrant in under 2 percent to make wholesale cuts in staff and/or programs. Is that what taxpayers want?
Local education is indeed an expensive proposition. But the state, through unfunded mandates, is largely responsible for that. In essence, the governor is suggesting that the state, which dictates how schools must fulfill their mission, should also place a limit on a district’s ability to pay its costs.
Only in Albany does such a warped arrangement make sense.
So far, Mr. Cuomo has been silent on any companion measures, such as limiting public employee salary increases, or capping local contributions to the state employees pension fund. Nor does he say how a school should balance its books when the costs of heating, electricity and supplies exceed 2 percent.
If Mr. Cuomo and the Legislature are serious about keeping taxes in check, a 2 percent cap would have to be just one element in a much broader plan. As a single trinket offered in a couple of speeches, it seems little more than yet another example of political appeasement. With hopes running high for an end to Albany’s culture of complacency toward its tax-and-spend policies, that’s no way to start a new administration.