WXXI Local Stories
4:40 am
Mon December 1, 2008

Property Tax Commission Suggests Easing Rules on Schools

Albany, New York – The state's commission on property tax relief issued its final report Monday, and recommends that school taxes be capped at 4% a year.

The final report's conclusions are similar to a preliminary study in June that said school property taxes should be limited to no more than a 4% increase a year, with provisions for local school districts to let voters override that cap.

What's new in the final report, says Commission Chair Tom Suozzi, is more recommendations for ways school districts can save money, especially in tough economic times. Suozzi, who is also the Nassau County Executive, says, state government has to stop making so many rules for schools to follow, without providing any funding for districts to carry out the mandates. He says school districts should be allowed to band together to bargain for new contracts with teachers, and that pension and health care benefits should be weakened in some cases. Suozzi says a rule that allows teachers paid time off to donate blood should be rescinded.

Tim Kremer, executive director of the State School Boards Association, says a number of the recommendations for mandate relief originated from the school boards, and he's pleased to see them included in the report.

The commission's report was condemned by pro-school funding groups, the Campaign for Fiscal Equity and the Alliance for Quality Education. They say the governor should instead increase taxes on the state's wealthy to pay for schools and hold the line on property taxes.

The Republican led State Senate has already approved the 4% property tax cap. Some Senators were punished by the state teacher's union, which is opposed to the cap. The union withheld its endorsements in election campaigns. The State Assembly, controlled by Democrats, has not acted on the measure, and many Democrats oppose it.

Governor Paterson has already warned schools that they will face deep cutbacks in the school year that begins in September, 2009. But the governor says those cuts, to plug a multi billion dollar budget deficit, will make it even more important to enact a limit on property taxes.

"It even enhances the call for a cap on property taxes," Paterson said.

Both Governor Paterson and Commission Chair Suozzi concede that, even if the property tax cap is enacted, it won't immediately save New Yorkers money on their property taxes. But they say over the long term, it will bring down the state's highest in the nation property taxes to a more normal level.