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Report: LI school-tax growth rate plummets since tax cap enacted

People turn out to vote on Tuesday, May

People turn out to vote on Tuesday, May 19, 2015, on the school board, budget and issues at the Alverta B. Gray Schultz Middle School in Hempstead. Credit: Howard Schnapp

ALBANY - ALBANY -- The growth rate for Long Island school taxes has been cut by nearly two-thirds since the state implemented a property tax cap, according to a study released Tuesday by business groups.

School taxes have grown at an annual rate of 2.2 percent on the Island since state lawmakers enacted the cap in 2011, according to the survey by the Empire Center, a conservative-leaning think tank, and the state Business Council, a lobby group.

"That's probably the lowest four-year growth rate in school taxes in the post [World War II] era," said E.J. McMahon, director of the Empire Center.

In comparison, for the three decades prior, Island school taxes grew 6 percent per year.

As a result, Islanders paid $3 billion less in property taxes under the cap over the past four years, compared with what they would have if the old growth rate had continued, the groups said. The report was issued on the day residents across New York are headed to the polls to vote on local school budgets.

"This has been . . . a total reset" on how New Yorkers view property tax growth, McMahon said.

Along with the state Farm Bureau and others, the groups are pushing the State Legislature to make the tax cap permanent. Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-East Northport) lent his support at the groups' news conference.

The tax cap is linked in statute to New York City rent-control laws, which are set to expire in June. The rent laws are reauthorized every few years and have never expired since they were enacted decades ago. But property-tax cap advocates say that's no guarantee the cap will always survive.

The cap mandates that local governments can't raise tax levies more than 2 percent or the rate of inflation (with some exemptions for pensions and property-value growth) unless approved by a 60 percent "supermajority" of voters. Teachers' unions have sued to overturn the legality of the cap, but have failed so far.

Politically, the issue of the cap's renewal pits Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and the Republican-controlled Senate, who want to make the tax cap permanent, against the Democrat-led Assembly, which wants to strengthen rent control laws.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said he doesn't support the extension of the property tax cap -- unpopular among many of his members -- but stressed it is part of negotiations with the Senate.

"If anything, I don't like things to be attached. But the Senate has a list, we have a list, and if we can come to agreement . . . that's usually what happens," said Heastie (D-Bronx).

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