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NY Senate to vote to make property-tax cap permanent

State Sen. James Gaughran, seen on Dec. 14,

State Sen. James Gaughran, seen on Dec. 14, 2018, sponsored the tax cap bill that the Senate will vote on next week. Credit: Barry Sloan

ALBANY — Long Island senators, who now make up a key bloc of the Democratic majority, said Thursday the chamber will approve a bill next week to make the state’s property tax cap permanent.

Doing so would complete a high priority for some Island officials and would end the need to renew the cap every few years. But it also sets up the first potential conflict between the Senate and  Assembly, whose members have been less convinced about giving the cap permanent status.

Sen. James Gaughran (D-Northport), sponsor of the tax cap bill, called the measure “vital” and said the Senate plans to vote on it Wednesday.

“When I ran, I pledged to do what whatever I can to reduce the tax burden Long Islanders face,” said the freshman senator. “This is an important first step.”

Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said Democrats, who just took over the Senate after years of Republican control, wanted to make the tax cap a priority.

“We need to ensure that New York homeowners are not taxed out of their communities,” Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers) said in an email. “After years of uncertainty regarding the future of the property tax cap, the Senate Majority is stepping up and clearly demonstrating our commitment to keeping taxes under control.”

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo successfully shepherded the tax cap through the legislature in 2011, his first year in office. It requires a 60 percent “supermajority” vote for any school district or local government board to raise annual property taxes more than 2 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is lower. The law does contain some exceptions for local economic growth that don’t count against the cap. Since it's implementation, 2 percent overrides have been rare.

Rather than make it permanent, lawmakers have always renewed it a few years at a time. It is set to expire in 2020, but typically has been linked, for practical political purposes, with rent-control laws, which expire this year.

The cap is politically popular and it has never been in real danger of expiring. That said, it’s not certain all lawmakers will want to make it permanent.

Cuomo supports the idea. Republicans, when they controlled the Senate, also supported it.

But the Assembly’s Democratic majority hasn’t backed a permanent cap, in part because the idea has long been opposed by teachers’ unions, which are major campaign supporters, as well as local municipal and school district leaders, who are important constituencies. They all blame the cap for layoffs and reduced programs.

The influential New York State United Teachers has called the cap arbitrary, undemocratic and unsustainable.

A key political question will be whether now, with their fellow Democrats controlling the Senate, the Assembly would be more amenable to making a deal.

“This is a matter we have not yet conferenced and I cannot give a projection to see what the general feeling will be,” Assemb. Charles Lavine (D-Glen Cove) told Newsday recently.

Some Democratic Assembly members said they could accept a permanent tax cap if it were nuanced, allowing more spending to be excluded from the cap.

With Michael Gormley

State & Region