Local New York Governments Rebel Against Cuomo Austerity

Just as some conservative state governments threatened to opt-out of a federal health care law they saw as burdensome and misguided, many local communities across New York state are moving to override a statewide property tax cap put into effect by Governor Andrew Cuomo as part of his centrist, business-friendly legislative agenda, though they face an uphill battle to do so:

The communities, which include affluent New York City suburbs and rural outposts in the state’s extreme northern frontier, are declaring that they cannot restrain the growth of property taxes and still comply with a variety of state-mandated programs and provide the services residents expect. And now dozens of town and county boards are overriding, or proposing to override, the cap.

“We should be able to dictate our own financial future,” said Lee V. A. Roberts, the supervisor in the Westchester County town of Bedford, where the town board has already voted to grant itself a waiver from the cap.

The tax cap was approved by the Legislature in late June and was an effort to limit the annual growth of local property taxes to 2 percent or the rate of inflation. After that measure passed, Mr. Cuomo vowed that it would “provide much-needed relief” from rising taxes, and he was so proud of the new law that he signed it six times, once in his office and five times on the front lawns of houses in high-tax communities.

But despite the fanfare of the bill signing(s) and plaudits from much of the business community, New Yorkers seem to already be pining for the past, when local matters were decided with local needs in mind.

“These kinds of property tax caps place an arbitrary limit on the ability of local governments to raise revenue, limits that don’t reflect the cost of providing public services,” Phil Oliff, a policy analyst at the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, told The National Memo on Monday.

“Many proponents of these caps claim that they simply cull inefficiencies from local governments. But they lead to real cuts in valued public services. Cuts to road maintenance budgets, closings of fire stations and libraries,” and lost jobs for cops and teachers, he added.

And the burden is on localities should they seek to overcome this fiscal obstacle. Local governments need 60 percent of elected officials — and school boards 60 percent of all voters — to override the cap.

“The cap was unrealistic,” said Frank Mauro of the Fiscal Policy Institute. “They [the Cuomo administration] point to Massachusetts’ [property tax ceiling] as an example of a cap that doesn’t hurt education, but then they proposed and enacted a cap that was much tighter. And you can have 59 percent of the people vote for an override and they lose. It’s not a democracy.”

This austerity regime, coupled with news that the governor pushed the mayor of Albany to evict the Occupy Wall Street demonstrators in that city, means Cuomo may find himself on the wrong side of some central economic matters should he join the Democratic presidential primaries in 2016.


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