Teachers Union Sues Over Tax Cap

Feb 20, 2013

New York state’s largest teachers union has filed a lawsuit against the state’s property tax cap, arguing it’s unconstitutional.

New York State United Teachers President Dick Iannuzzi  says the cap, passed by Cuomo and the legislature in 2011,  arbitrarily limits property tax increases to 2% per year,  regardless of whether a school district is rich or poor.  The lawsuit also charges that the tax cap violates the principle of one person one vote, because a supermajority of 60% of voters is required to override the cap.  

“We filed the lawsuit because there is clearly an inequitable funding of education in New York State,” said Iannuzzi.

Governor Cuomo, who counts the property tax cap as one of his top achievements, says the teachers union has a right to sue, but he says more money can’t always be the answer.  He says he increased school funding by 4% this year, but in the past, double digit increases in school aid were common.

“We have one of the most expensive and one of the least productive education systems, Cuomo said.  “The answer that it’s more money, more money , more money, I reject”.

Cuomo says he thinks steps like establishing teacher evaluation plans will do more to improve education in the state.

Brian Sampson, with the pro business group Unshackle Upstate, says the tax cap was enacted because the state’s property taxes are  78% above  the national average, and New York has nine of the ten highest counties in the nation for property taxes as a percentage of home values.

“Property taxes were becoming an obstacle and a burden to home ownership,” said Sampson. “But also to the business communities.”

He says the teachers union is trying to avoid making union concessions, like giving up some collective bargaining laws that the business group believes favors unions over management.

But Sampson says he agrees that there’s unfairness in the way school aid is distributed in New York.

“The formula is flawed,” Sampson said.

He says a larger solution may mean wealthier districts have to give up some of their aid to poorer schools.

NYSUT got some support for its lawsuit from another union leader. The AFL-CIO’s Mario Cilento says the “undemocratic and arbitrary cap” has “done nothing but tie the hands of school districts at exactly the wrong time”.