Featured Columnist Richard C. Iannuzzi – Rejecting the Property Tax Cap As Just Another Albany Gimmick
By Richard C. Iannuzzi
August 20, 2010
One thing I know about New Yorkers, they're great at recognizing which products and proposals are worthwhile and which are no more than flashy come-ons that promise a lot, but deliver nothing. That’s why I’m confident that, once voters learn more about property tax caps, they’ll reject them as another gimmick, not unlike those exercise belts that promise you three inches off your waistline in just 10 days. Some things are simply "too good to be true."
Don't get me wrong: Rising property taxes are certainly a serious issue. Educators — like all public employees — are taxpayers, too, so they are also concerned about the way the state continues to shift the burden of paying for education onto the backs of local property taxpayers.
But a property tax cap is not the answer. Yes, it allows politicians to say they're doing something about property taxes — but without actually solving the problem; without providing real tax relief.
By definition, a tax cap simply limits the amount your property taxes could go up each year. If you are one of those New Yorkers who believes your property taxes are already too high, or you’re having trouble paying your property taxes, a tax cap provides absolutely no relief.
Just as problematic, tax caps take away the ability of parents and community members to decide how to invest in their children’s futures. It removes local decision-making and local control from the very taxpayers and residents who are serviced by a community's schools and hands it over to politicians in Albany.
School boards and voters in New York's communities have demonstrated that they are responsible stewards of property tax money. Voters adopted a near-record 93 percent of school budgets. And, in places where budgets were defeated, residents were most likely reacting to a plan that they believed did not reflect the community’s priorities. In a very real way, school budget votes serve as a local and democratic “cap” on local property taxes.
As New Yorkers dig deeper into the concept of property tax caps, it won’t take long at all to recognize that, while the words sound good, a property tax cap won’t do anything to solve the problem. New Yorkers are looking for real, sustainable property tax relief. One option is a property tax "circuit breaker" designed to protect you from having to pay a disproportionate share of your income in property taxes.
It works like this: If homeowners’ property taxes surpass a certain income threshold, they would get a rebate check. Imagine that — getting money back from the state to lower your property taxes! You’ll be hearing a lot about property tax caps in the coming months, as politicians take to the campaign trail and start making promises.
Fortunately, many New Yorkers — like followers of this website — aren't swayed by 30-second political commercials, no matter how many times they're aired. Once all the facts are out, voters will quickly see the difference between an empty tax cap promise and real property tax relief.
Richard C. Iannuzzi is president of the 600,000-member New York State United Teachers, representing professionals in education and health care.