A challenge to the constitutionality of New York’s local property tax cap will be reargued today in State Supreme Court in Albany before Judge Eugene Devine.
The tax cap litigation was transferred to Judge Devine, who is also presiding over Maisto v. New York, the all-important “Small Cities” school funding case. In Maisto, Utica, Poughkeepsie and five other upstate, high need school districts claim that the State, by failing to fund the 2007 Foundation Aid Formula, is depriving students of a constitutional “sound basic education.” Judge Devine has set September 29 as the date to start trial, and the outcome will have statewide impact.
In the tax cap case, Plaintiffs will be represented by Richard Casagrande, General Counsel for the New York State United Teachers (NYSUT).
The tax cap, enacted in 2011, limits local property tax increases to support schools to 2% per year. Plaintiffs argue the tax cap is unconstitutional on several grounds, including the harm caused by the combination of the cap and the State’s ongoing failure to adequately fund the 2007 Foundation Aid Formula enacted to provide sufficient funding to educate all New York school children.
Over several years, the State has shortchanged New York schools by a cumulative $7 billion in Foundation Aid. As a result, districts, especially those with high student need, have cut core teachers and essential programs, including extra help for at-risk children, science courses, Advanced Placement classes, sports and the arts.
The 2% tax cap not only prevents districts from mitigating the educational harm caused by the State’s underfunding of the 2007 Formula, it also disproportionately harms high need districts with low property wealth. A 2% tax increase in these communities generates far less than the same percentage increase in wealthier districts with high property values. The only way for a district to raise additional local funds is to override the cap by a 60% vote, or a super-majority. Since the cap went into effect, only a tiny fraction of districts has succeeded in passing an override.
The Education Law Center’s Campaign for Fiscal Equity Project (CFE) filed an amicus brief in the tax cap case on behalf of the Alliance for Quality Education (AQE). The brief argues that the restrictive tax cap creates an insurmountable barrier in many districts to providing basic educational resources for students. By preventing underfunded districts from raising the revenue to pay for these necessities, the tax cap violates the constitutional rights of children in those districts to obtain a “sound basic education.”
CFE will continue to support this pivotal case and provide regular updates on the proceedings.
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