Cuomo, Island allies ready to rumble over tax cap

Sunday in the park: Regionial lawmakers joined Gov. Andrew Cuomo in New Hyde Park this weekend to support permanent adoption of New York State's annual 2 percent property tax cap.
By GREGORY ZELLER //

With one of his biggest legislative accomplishments – and most significant Long Island-centric reforms – facing imminent extinction, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and political allies rallied Sunday in Nassau County.

New York State’s 2 percent annual property tax cap, a temporary measure that took effect in 2012, expires in 2020. Earlier this month, Cuomo vowed to reject any new executive budget that didn’t make the tax cap permanent – and he renewed that pledge Sunday in New Hyde Park, backed by a cadre of regional politicos.

Framing it as a fight for the middle class, the governor lamented federal tax policies that “took care of the rich” while overburdening New York State and the middle class in general – and said a permanent 2 percent cap on property tax increases was meant as a “we hear you” to those average taxpayers.

“We know your pain, we know you’re struggling,” Cuomo added. “And this hand will not sign a budget that does not have a permanent tax cap, period.”

According to the governor’s office, the effects of the temporary tax cap speak for themselves: Since 2012, the cap has saved statewide taxpayers an estimated $24.4 billion by holding local property-tax growth to a statewide 1.9 percent – compared to 5.3 percent average growth between 2000 and 2010.

Spiraling property taxes, of course, have long been a Long Island bugaboo, stunting both residential development and industry’s willingness to center workforces here.

Monica Martinez: Remember the students.

Nassau County ($8,478 in 2019) consistently ranks as the county with the state’s highest or second-highest median property tax; Westchester ($8,474) sometimes edges ahead. Suffolk ($7,010), meanwhile, is known to approach New York’s top 10 – and this in a state where the statewide median property tax ($3,755) is estimated by Cuomo’s office to be 96 percent higher than the national median ($1,917).

But the 2 percent cap that kicked in seven years ago has saved Long Island property owners an estimated $8.7 billion – more than a third of that statewide $24 billion savings, showing exactly why Long Island residents “must have a permanent property tax cut,” according to State Sen. Kevin Thomas (D-Garden City), who joined Cuomo Sunday at Clinton G. Martin Park.

“This needs to be a priority for my colleagues in the Senate and the Assembly,” Thomas said. “There should not be a budget without this critical component to help homeowners.”

One of the reasons Long Island’s property taxes are so high is its multitude of public school districts – 127 of them, each demanding its own staff, services and hefty budget, and few expressing interest in consolidation.

There are other factors, including proximity to New York City, which tends to inflate home costs, and the prevalence of special taxing districts providing sanitation, water, fire protection and other services, weaved throughout county and municipal governments.

But with an estimated 60 percent of property tax bills funding local schools, any property tax cap, by definition, threatens school funding – a fact not lost on freshman State Sen. Monica Martinez (D-Hauppauge), who said Sunday she supports Cuomo’s efforts on behalf of the middle class, but not at the expense of regional schools.

“As a former teacher and administrator, I also keenly understand that Suffolk County’s school districts are facing an ever-increasing need to invest in the needs of their students,” Martinez noted. “I look forward to working with Gov. Cuomo, my colleagues in the Legislature, school district representatives and community stakeholders to ensure that we protect New York taxpayers while enabling schools to continue to provide a quality education.”

With no easy answers apparent, a legislative fight looms – but it’s one worth fighting, according to both of Long Island’s county executives, who showed their flags and their support at Sunday’s rally.

Suffolk Executive Steve Bellone said the state needs a permanent 2 percent cap “now more than ever … to protect homeowners,” while Nassau Executive Laura Curran – who said she’s “working hard to hold the line on taxes” and trumpeted a 2019 budget proposal that includes no property tax increases – said a permanent 2 percent cap would “help save our residents money and ease their burden for years to come.”

State Sen. Anna Kaplan (D-Great Neck) circled back to Cuomo’s point about this being a fight for the middle class – in many ways, a fight against Washington.

“With the federal administration declaring war on New York taxpayers by reducing the State and Local Tax deduction, it’s becoming harder and harder for Long Island families to make ends meet,” Kaplan said. “That’s why I’m standing with Gov. Cuomo and my Long Island Senate-majority colleagues to fight to make it permanent in the state budget.”