In the four years since New York State adopted the 2 percent property tax cap, we’ve weighed in on its success from time to time.
Since the cap was enacted, it’s been the position of this editorial board that it’s little more than a political gimmick — a way for Albany lawmakers to say they’re doing their part to keep the cost of living down for the general public that elects them.
Our biggest issue with the legislation remains that it tells schools and other local municipalities to limit their spending an arbitrary amount while doing nothing to provide relief from the mandates the state imposes on them.
The bill also fails to consider existing contracts. It appeared to us, we wrote in a Sept. 22, 2011, editorial, that Albany was patting itself on the back for a law that tells local municipalities what to do but offers no guidance about how to get there.
“How do we meet that requirement?” we opined on behalf of local governments. “Hey, that’s your problem.”
In May 2013, we took a look at school district spending to see if it had, in fact, decreased in the first two budgets since the tax cap was enacted. We found it had not. Overall spending increased $19.2 million in those two years in the seven North Fork school districts — nearly double the $10.2 million combined spending hike in the two years prior.
At the time, Albany lawmakers defended the cap, saying school spending would have gone up even more in those two years if the law was not in place.
So when we learned late last month that state legislators had extended the cap another four years, we decided to once again take a look at how effective the cap has been. This time around, the results were different.
As you’ll see here, reporter Tim Gannon learned that the tax warrants — the total amount of money collected in property taxes — in both North Fork towns have increased at a much slower rate in the past four years than they did in the four years before the cap was approved. The same can be said for the tax levies in most local school districts.
The need for mandate relief in Albany still exists, but perhaps these numbers demonstrate that the tax cap has had a positive impact. And although we’re constantly reminded of how it causes constraints that will lead to cuts in our schools, that threat existed long before the cap <\h>— and our schools are, for the most part, still offering many of the same programs to our students.
A 2 percent tax cap will never solve our property tax issues, but the intention behind it was never that ambitious. If it forces local governments to live a little more within their means — like the rest of us — it should remain in place.
It may be a political gimmick, but it’s one that seems to be saving us a little coin.