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Court dismisses union lawsuit against tax cap

Members of New York State United Teachers rally

Members of New York State United Teachers rally across the street from the Executive Mansion of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday, Dec. 31, 2014, in Albany. Credit: AP / Mike Groll

ALBANY -- A lower-level state court has dismissed an amended lawsuit by teachers' unions seeking to overturn the state's property tax cap.

The rejection was expected, given the dismissal of the union's original complaint in September.

New York State United Teachers argued that the property tax cap, enacted in 2011, is unconstitutional because it erodes local control of school finances, harms impoverished districts and violates the principle of "one man, one vote."

State Supreme Court Judge Patrick McGrath of Rensselaer County on March 16 rejected the union's argument.

He had allowed the union to amend its complaint to include a related property tax credit that Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and state legislators added last year.

"There is little doubt that the credit is designed to influence voters to stay within the cap," McGrath wrote. "However, this does not render the law unconstitutional."

The Cuomo administration cheered McGrath's ruling.

"Taxpayers prevailed today as yet another meritless special interest lawsuit that sought to undo the progress made under Gov. Cuomo failed in the courts," Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi said. "The fact remains that the tax cap has successfully reined in out-of-control property tax increases -- something that has only been strengthened by the tax freeze."

The union will appeal.

"The lower court was constrained by judicial precedents that we believe will get closer scrutiny in the appellate courts," said NYSUT spokesman Carl Korn. "We strongly believe that the property tax cap and tax freeze are undemocratic and undermine local control of schools, and we already are working on an appeal of Justice McGrath's decision."

Korn added: "It is shocking that the governor's office would label the plaintiffs, who are parents and teachers of public school students, 'special interests.' "The tax cap law dictates that a 60 percent majority vote is required to override the cap, which is set at 2 percent growth, adjusted for inflation and other factors.

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