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Long IslandPolitics

Court dismisses union suit against property tax cap

ALBANY -- A state judge has dismissed a lawsuit seeking to overturn New York's property-tax cap, but allowed the union challenging the cap to submit a new claim.

State Supreme Court Justice Patrick McGrath's ruling, dated Wednesday, sends the New York State United Teachers back to the drawing board in its efforts to upend the cap, one of Democrat Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's signature initiatives.

McGrath, of Rensselaer County, rejected NYSUT's arguments that the tax cap is unconstitutional because it erodes local control of school finances, harms districts in low-income areas and violates the principle of "one person, one vote."

The state's property tax cap law, adopted in 2011, says a 60 percent majority is required to override the cap, which is set at 2 percent growth, adjusted for inflation and other factors.

McGrath said the unions' equal protection claims were "without merit" because the supermajority override requirement doesn't hurt voters based on race, religion or any impermissible circumstance.

McGrath also disagreed with NYSUT's "underlying assertion that the statute deprives a district from exercising local control. A budget turned down by district voters is still an exercise of local control. 'Local control' encompasses both favorable and unfavorable consideration of a school district's budget, while plaintiffs appear to equate local control with budget approval."

But McGrath noted that NYSUT previously had sought permission to amend its lawsuit to combine it with complaints about a related tax rebate plan Cuomo and state legislators approved earlier this year. Under the plan, residents could be eligible for tax rebates if their school districts and/or local municipalities raise taxes but still stay under the 2 percent cap.

McGrath granted permission to NYSUT to amend its lawsuit and file a new claim.

The union issued a statement saying, "It is very likely that NYSUT, as permitted by today's decision, will continue its challenge to the constitutionality of the tax cap."

Cuomo aide Richard Azzopardi called the decision, "a victory for property taxpayers."*IS THE ENTIRE GRAF that follows a quote from Azzopardi? If not, where does the quote start?/ts/see fix/js//"By every measure, Gov. Cuomo's tax cap has successfully reined in out-of-control property tax increases and has been a key part of this administration's efforts to restore fiscal sanity to this state and bring accountability and rigor to our education system," Azzopardi said.

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