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Legislature Urges State to Provide Mandate Relief Before Capping Local Property Taxes

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Legislature Urges State to Provide Mandate Relief Before Capping Local Property Taxes

Tuesday, October 5, 2010
The Tompkins County Legislature has taken a firm stand on the issue of a proposed property tax cap, maintaining that New York State must significantly cut its unfunded mandates that cause local property tax increases before imposing any local property tax cap. Acting on a resolution advanced by the New York State Association of Counties (NYSAC), the Legislature "urges the Governor and State Legislature not to impose a local property tax cap unless it is coupled with significant cuts in local costs for State mandated programs that cause local property tax increases." The measure was supported by a vote of 13-1, with Legislator Kathy Luz Herrera voting no and Will Burbank excused.

The action notes that, while Governor Paterson and many State legislators support a cap on property tax levies of 4% or 120% of inflation, whichever is less, current tax cap proposals do nothing to reduce or eliminate current state mandates on counties or prevent new mandates. With state mandates and other fixed costs making up as much as 80% of a typical county budget and counties' responsibility for local delivery of state services, the measure predicts that "arbitrarily capping property taxes without addressing root causes would cripple county governments within a few short years because all non-mandated spending would have to be eliminated to meet the cap." The action notes that simply capping property taxes does nothing to reduce the cost of State services that counties must pay for and that, while the property tax cap proposal allows local boards to override the cap by two-thirds majority vote, such an action not only shifts costs to local governments, but also unfairly shifts blame to local leaders for tax increases actually caused by the State.

An alternate resolution, advanced earlier by Legislator Peter Stein, would have asked the State, should the NYSAC measure not be accepted, to cap all mandates on counties at the 2010 level as part of any local property tax cap, which failed by a 4-9 vote, with Legislators Stein, Pat Pryor, Leslyn McBean-Clairborne, and Carol Chock voting in favor. Legislator Stein suggested this approach would more likely to be accepted by the State. Many legislators thanked Stein for taking initiative on the issue. His suggested alternate approach will be communicated to NYSAC by letter, along with the Legislature's resolution.