Editorial: Ending the property tax cap is a bad idea

Cynthia Nixon, the Working Families Party candidate for governor of New York, recently spoke out against the state’s 2 percent cap on annual spending. She also came out against the state’s 2 percent cap on increases in local property taxes.

The only way to explain such a bizarre position is that Ms. Nixon is positioning herself among liberal voters who will play an outsized role in the Democratic Party primary, scheduled for Sept. 13. She will be running head-to-head against Gov. Andrew Cuomo for the nomination. The governor strongly supports the caps.

In 2015, when the New York State Legislature extended the 2 percent property tax cap for an additional four years, we assigned a reporter to study the cap and determine how effective it had been up to that point.

Among the findings: In the Riverhead school district, the tax levy rose 13.1 percent in the four years since the cap was first passed by the Legislature. In the four years preceding its passage, the levy increased by 16.3 percent.

Numbers In the Shoreham-Wading River School District are more striking. In the four years before the cap’s passage, taxes went up 21.5 percent. In the four years after, they rose by 6 percent.

In terms of the towns’ share of the property tax, the warrant increased by 11.8 percent in Riverhead in the four years since the cap took effect. In the four years prior, it went up 16.9 percent. In Southold, the overall increase for those same four-year periods dropped to 10.4 percent from 17.8 percent.

In that story, Southold Supervisor Scott Russell hailed the extension of the cap because it helped alleviate the property tax burden on homeowners.

In her comments, Ms. Nixon said the 2 percent cap on state spending was “disastrous.” As for the cap on property taxes, she said it prevented school districts from increasing spending on needed educational initiatives.

Her comments were sharply criticized by a host of public officials, including Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone and Nassau County Executive Laura Curran. Both hailed the cap as vital to preserving the middle class on Long Island.

Politically speaking, Ms. Nixon is swimming against the tide. A 2015 Siena College Research Institute Poll quoted in a recent Newsday story said that 73 percent of voters approved of the property tax cap. On Long Island, where property taxes are among the highest in the nation, support for the cap was 77 percent that year.

While Ms. Nixon’s position may help her in the primary with a narrow group of Democratic Party voters, it would hurt her if she were to proceed beyond the primary with voters in highly taxed Long Island and Westchester County.

State figures show that since the cap’s passage in 2012, and through last year, the typical taxpayer saved approximately $2,100 in property taxes. A closer look at the property tax cap’s impact in Suffolk County shows huge savings for taxpayers. According to state figures, the 10-year average annual growth in property taxes from 2000 to 2010 was 5.6 percent. Average annual growth for the cap’s first three years was 2.1 percent.

For Suffolk County property taxpayers, the cumulative savings during the cap’s first three years was $1,588. The cumulative savings for the five years after the passage was $4,180.

That is certainly not pocket change in one of the highest cost of living states in the country. Ms. Nixon’s positions on the tax caps makes us wonder which groups statewide she is beholden to this early in her campaign. It certainly isn’t the homeowner on Long Island.