Cap or cut: Tax cap proposal explained

The term property tax burden is an apt one.

In New York state, local taxpayers pay 79 percent more than the national average. People cite high property taxes as one of the top reasons they leave the state.

And the problem isn't getting any better. According to a recent Siena Research Institute poll, 48 percent of New Yorkers believe that the state's financial condition is poor; 37 percent say it's fair. More than two-thirds of state residents, including nearly 75 percent of Upstaters, feel that New York is in the worst fiscal shape it's been in since the 1970s.

In response to the crisis, Gov. David Paterson has called for deep cuts to the state's budget, summoned legislators back to Albany for an emergency legislative session and, in a highly controversial move, asked for a cap on the amount school districts can increase their property taxes.

The growth rate of property taxes in this state is unsustainable, especially for the elderly, working families and small businesses just starting out, Paterson has said. All of us understand that the tax cap is a blunt instrument, but it is needed to force hard choices.

Paterson sounded the call for a tax cap this spring after the release of a report from the New York State Commission on Property Tax Relief, a state committee chaired by Nassau County Executive Thomas Suozzi. Earlier this month, the state senate passed a tax cap bill. In the same Siena poll noted above, 66 percent of New Yorkers support a tax cap of some kind (23 percent are against, and 11 percent are undecided).

But not everyone is enthusiastic about the proposal. The state teachers' union is decrying it as detrimental to education, and others question whether it will deliver the relief it promises. Still others are proposing a circuit breaker, which would limit the amount of income people spend on property taxes. The Siena poll said that 75 percent of New Yorkers would support a circuit breaker compared to 18 percent who wouldn't; in fact, the poll found that the circuit breaker had the edge over the tax cap (58 percent to 33 percent) if the legislature were to choose just one.

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