By Joseph Spector Albany Bureau Chief
ALBANY, NY-- The state is seeking to toss a lawsuit by the teachers' union against the property-tax cap, saying the 2011 law is constitutional and aims to limit New York's high property taxes.
New York State United Teachers, the state's largest teacher's union, filed a lawsuit Feb. 20 against the tax cap, claiming that it has created inequities between wealthy and poor districts.
In a filing April 1, the state Attorney General's Office defended the cap on behalf of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the state Education Department and Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli. The response said the union's lawsuit should be dismissed.
"The state's concern over the dampening effect that this ever-mounting tax burden has on business activity in the state is beyond dispute," the response said.
The cap limits the growth in property taxes to 2 percent a year or the rate of inflation, whichever is lower. Each taxing entity, however, has a different cap amount based on exclusions, such as the growth in pension costs.
It takes 60 percent of the school budget vote in May to override the cap, which the union has criticized.
The state's response says the supermajority, citing previous court cases, is allowable under state law. Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who voted against a property-tax cap proposal in 2010 as a state senator, represents the state in lawsuits against it.
"The supermajority requirement of the statute does not single out a discrete and insular minority for special treatment," the response states.
The union has argued that the supermajority is unfair to school districts and infringes on the "one person, one vote" principle. Wealthy districts would be more likely to pass an override than poor ones, opponents have said.
Local governments are also required to pass a tax-cap override with 60 percent of the vote, but for towns, that means a simple majority of three of its five members.
"There are no surprises in the state's claims. We are confident in the strength of our case," NYSUT spokesman Carl Korn said in a statement.
"We look forward to defending the principle of one-person, one-vote; the right of voters to make decisions about their own schools and the right of every child, no matter where they live, to receive a first-class public education."
NYSUT's response to the state's motion to dismiss is due June 7. The case is to be heard in state Supreme Court in Albany on June 21.
School officials said the cap has hindered districts' ability to raise revenue amid growing costs for pensions and health care. They've said it has led to cuts in staff and services and hasn't been paired with reforms to unfunded, state-mandated programs.
"The tax cap this past year, I think it did cause districts to propose even lower tax increases, but at what cost?" said Robert Lowry, deputy director of the state Council of School Superintendents.
Schools will seek budget approval from voters May 21.
Cuomo has said the tax cap has been one of his major accomplishments since taking office in 2011. He said it has limited the growth in taxes in a state where property taxes are among the highest in the nation.
"It is clear that the property-tax cap has been a tremendous success, saving hard-earned money for New York families while ensuring that local governments learn to do more with less," Cuomo said last September in a report about the cap's first year.