Houses along Centennial Avenue in Baldwin in January 2017.

Houses along Centennial Avenue in Baldwin in January 2017. Credit: / Kevin P. Coughlin

New York State’s baseline cap on growth in school taxes will be 2 percent in 2019-20, the state comptroller’s office announced Friday, marking the second consecutive year that limits on taxation will be set at the highest level allowed under state law.

“We would certainly consider that good news,” said Kenneth Bossert, superintendent of Elwood schools and president of the Suffolk County School Superintendents Association.

Bossert noted that next year’s financial picture for schools won’t be clear until Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and the legislature agree on a statewide package of financial aid for education.

That process starts when the governor issues his budget proposals on Tuesday and, under law, is supposed to conclude by April 1 with a final budget agreement.

The tax-cap law, which took effect in the 2012-13 school year, limits tax-levy increases to 2 percent or the inflation rate, whichever is lower. Levies are the total dollar amounts raised through property taxation.

The baseline cap is officially set annually by the comptroller’s office. The national inflation rate has been running around 2.2 percent.

On Long Island, school taxes account for about two-thirds of property owners’ total bills.

School districts use the baseline as a starter for calculating local caps, which can be higher, equal to or lower than the state’s 2 percent baseline, depending upon a variety of factors. Those include local expenses that are exempt from caps, such as voter-approved borrowing for school construction and renovation.

A district can exceed its cap limit only by winning a supermajority vote of 60 percent or better on its proposed spending plan. Budget votes this year are set for May 21.

The baseline cap applies to 676 school districts statewide, including the 124 on the Island.

The law, generally regarded as a major Cuomo initiative, was designed to slow growth in local property taxes, which rank among the nation’s highest. Since it took effect, the law, coupled with the impact of the 2007-08 financial crisis and subsequent downturn, has dramatically reduced growth in levies that previously ranged between 4 percent and 10 percent annually.

“Really, that 2 percent limit was put in so people like me could afford to live here,” said Fred Gorman, a Nesconset civic leader and regional taxpayer advocate. “If that 2 percent weren’t in place, there’s no telling how much we’d be paying in school taxes.”

In addition to school districts, the law applies to counties, municipalities and other local government. Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli’s office calculates a separate baseline for school districts.

The baseline tax cap: Year by year

The statewide allowable tax-levy increase for school districts is calculated by the state comptroller’s office as a baseline cap figure.

Under state law, the baseline is 2 percent or tied to the inflation rate, whichever is lower. Each district has its own tax-cap limit that is based on the statewide figure but adjusted for exemptions allowed under the law.

Here are statewide caps since New York’s law took effect:

  • 2012-13: 2 percent
  • 2013-14: 2 percent
  • 2014-15: 1.46 percent
  • 2015-16: 1.62 percent
  • 2016-17: 0.12 percent
  • 2017-18: 1.26 percent
  • 2018-19: 2 percent
  • 2019-20: 2 percent

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