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Tax cap measure passes Senate, stalls in Assembly

Jim Bowen

The New York State Senate has passed a bill to make the state’s 8-year-old property tax cap permanent. So far, the Assembly has not approved the measure.

Since the legislative session began, Democrats who control both chambers have approved several major measures, including the Reproductive Health Act and early voting, with minority party Republicans voting no.

One rare instance of bipartisan unity – in the Senate, at least – involved making the state’s temporary 2 percent annual property tax cap permanent.

The measure was sponsored by Jim Gaughran, a freshman Democrat from Long Island. Gaughran is one of several Democrats who replaced Republicans in New York City’s suburbs, where high property taxes are a concern.

He said federal changes in the tax code that limit the amount of state and local taxes that can be deducted are putting even more pressure on New York’s taxpayers. He said a permanent cap gives them some certainty.

“Families in my district and across the state will have to make decisions as to what they’re not going to pay,” Gaughran said. “Maybe it’s their tuition for their kids, maybe it’s their property taxes, maybe it’s their mortgage.”

Gaughran said the state should be giving more money to local schools as a way to bring property taxes down, which he calls a “regressive” tax.

Sen. Anna Kaplan, also a freshman from Long Island, is a co-sponsor. She said taxpayers need all the help they can get to slow the growth of property taxes.

“We need to use all the tools at our disposal to help government to live within in its means,” Kaplan said. “And to bring relief to struggling taxpayers.”

Senate Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins is from Westchester. She said shortly after elections last November that she would seek to make the tax cap permanent. 

Senate Republicans all voted for the cap, but they voiced some concerns. Some said the tax cap should also apply to New York City.

Sen. Pamela Helming, a Republican from Canandaigua, said the tax cap also needs to be accompanied by mandate relief. She said local governments struggle to keep within the cap because they are forced to finance numerous unfunded mandates from the state. Helming said the tax cap has slowed down the growth of taxes, but more needs to be done to actually lower taxes. 

“We still continue to see property taxes increasing,” Helming said. “And until we stop that, we’re going to see people leaving the state.”

The measure was approved by a vote of 59-1.

The State Assembly did not act on the measure. 

Some in the Assembly want to keep the property tax cap bill as a bargaining chip to achieve reform of New York City’s rent laws.

But Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, who has been working closely with Stewart-Cousins on major issues, said no one should read too much into that.

“We are both Democratic houses, but we may not be always on the same schedule, so I don’t think anybody should have any notice or concern if they pass a bill first or we pass a bill first, or vice versa,” Heastie said.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is a supporter of making the property tax cap permanent and included the legislation to do so his state budget plan. 

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.