School budget votes illustrate the need for changes in tax cap
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While voters approved seven of the nine school district budgets up for re-votes on Tuesday, the results clearly highlight the need for state lawmakers to amend the tax cap.
The two budgets that failed (Northeastern Clinton and Parishville-Hopkinton) both received a substantial majority of voter support (58 percent for Northeastern Clinton and 59.5 percent for Parishville-Hopkinton), but failed because they needed a supermajority.
"Once again, we see the detrimental effects of the tax cap in action," said Timothy G. Kremer, executive director of the New York State School Boards Association (NYSSBA). "Since the tax cap took effect, two-thirds of districts that unsuccessfully attempted overrides had a majority of their voters support their budgets, yet their budgets were defeated. In these cases, fewer than half of voters trumped the will of the majority. The tax cap turns the concept of 'one person, one vote' on its head."
Kremer said this situation could potentially be avoided if lawmakers redesign the override requirement so that it is a separate ballot question, put directly to voters for simple majority approval.
Tax Cap Anomalies
The Northeastern Clinton school district illustrates the need for another tax cap reform: addressing instances where a district's maximum allowable tax cap is negative.
Northeastern Clinton had a negative tax cap for the second consecutive year. The district received strong support – 58 percent – for a 2 percent increase in May, yet that budget was defeated because the 2 percent increase was above the district's tax cap of negative 1.8 percent. This is confusing, and confused voters usually vote no. Even now, it is unclear whether the change in the district's tax levy under a contingency budget would be negative 1.8 percent or zero.
"We have four years of experience with the tax cap under our belt," said Kremer. "We've learned from experience. Lawmakers have the opportunity right now to improve the cap and clarify voters' confusion by adopting these much-needed reforms."
NYSSBA, along with its partners in the Educational Conference Board – a broad coalition of the state's major education organizations, has called on lawmakers to adopt several changes to the tax cap law. Among them are:
- Redesigning the override requirement as a separate ballot question;
- Modifying the uniquely restrictive zero percent contingent budget cap for schools;
- Making the allowable levy growth factor a consistent 2 percent, regardless of CPI;
- Addressing instances where a district's maximum allowable tax cap is negative;
- Counting BOCES capital costs in the capital exclusion;
- Including PILOTs in the tax base growth factor; and
- Accounting for enrollment growth in the tax cap calculation.
The school district budgets that passed on re-votes Tuesday were Walton, Tioga, Chazy, Herkimer, Patchogue-Medford, Addison, and Geneva.
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