LI senators: Tax cap unlikely this year

State Sen. John Flanagan (R- East Northport) (Feb.

State Sen. John Flanagan (R- East Northport) (Feb. 17, 2011) (Credit: Howard Schnapp)

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ALBANY -- Long Island senators, who have helped spearhead a push for a statewide property-tax cap, now say it's unlikely a cap gets enacted at all this year.

The reason: The state has no concrete plan to tie a tax cap to mandate relief for local governments. Senators said there is a growing sentiment in the Republican-led chamber that they can't support one without the other.

"Given what is going on right now, I don't think there will be a property-tax cap this year," Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) said Wednesday while addressing a group of Long Island teachers lobbying at the Capitol.

"There are a lot of people who will disagree with me," Flanagan continued. "But I know in my conversations with my own colleagues . . . many of my colleagues in the Senate Republican conference have made it very, very clear we will not enact any [cap] that could become law unless there are significant modifications, especially in the area of mandate relief."

Like many others, Flanagan knocked the work of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's "mandate relief" task force. Assigned to produce suggestions to help local governments, the panel released a report earlier this month that was widely panned for its lack of detail. Flanagan called it an "87-page report that in my opinion is useless."

"It doesn't really address many of the serious issues we have to deal with," he said.

"I am not voting for any tax cap without significant mandate relief," Flanagan said. But the senator stressed that enacting a property-tax cap "remains our No. 1 priority" and that the GOP's "overriding goal" is to pass a cap along with a mandate relief agenda this session.

The Republican-led Senate voted 45-17 on Jan. 31 to support Cuomo's proposal for a bill that would limit any property-tax hikes to a maximum of 2 percent or the rate of inflation. The cap could be overridden only by a vote of the local governing board and a 60 percent majority in a local referendum.

But with the Democrat-led Assembly balking, that vote has been viewed as symbolic, with the governor and the two houses likely to discuss a more detailed proposal later.

Administration officials noted that the Senate Republicans had a representative on the mandate-relief panel they are now criticizing and pointed out that the GOP passed a tax-cap bill that did not include mandate relief.

"They never made it a quid pro quo before," said a Cuomo official close to the talks.

But Sen. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) said Flanagan's view represents a growing feeling in the Republican conference.

"I don't think any members of the conference will support a tax cap without meaningful mandate relief," Zeldin said.

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