When New York enacted a property tax cap two years ago, it was widely praised by those frustrated with seemingly out-of-control tax increases. As a result, local governments and school districts were forced to make tough decisions on layoffs, programs and other spending priorities -- or answer to a public that demanded relief.
In its first year in 2011, most governments -- 95 percent -- complied with the 2-percent cap, while last year 19 percent of local governments and 5 percent of school districts busted the limit.
Its relative success in slowing spending is why Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo maintains "it's one of the best things" he's done as governor.
But those facing cuts -- notably teachers -- say the law is unfair, divisive and undermines their ability to educate. That's why New York State United Teachers, or NYSUT, is challenging its constitutionality. The lawsuit, filed in State Supreme Court in Albany, argues the cap strips away local control from school districts, unfairly targets poorer communities and undermines the principle of one person, one vote since it requires a 60 percent majority, as opposed to 51 percent, to override the cap. Their claim is that a supermajority makes a "yes" vote worth less than a "no."
Testing the law is their prerogative, but it seems disingenuous for the union to argue on behalf of urban districts, especially when they balk at other critical reforms like teacher evaluations. Nevertheless, throwing more money at the education system doesn't work; it rarely has in a state that already spends roughly $19,000 per pupil -- thousands more than the national norm -- yet still doesn't graduate about 25 percent of its students.
If anything, the suit may ratchet up the pressure for Cuomo and the State Legislature to follow up on a one-two punch of relief from spiraling costs like pensions and other mandated expenses.
The cap alone won't solve New York's fiscal problems. But eliminating it won't address the challenges facing education.