When I listen to politicians in Albany debate property taxes, I am reminded of a famous quote from T.S. Eliot, who said, “Most of the evil in this world is done by people with good intentions.” The rush to make New York’s flawed and undemocratic property tax cap permanent is an example of something that started with the best of intentions, but has led to the cruelest of outcomes.
I certainly understand the goal. I am a taxpayer. I am also president of a union that represents workers in every community of this state. I spend much of my time on the road, listening to the concerns of our members and the people we serve. Nobody wants to pay one dime more in taxes than is absolutely necessary.
But we have to be realistic about what the tax cap does and does not do. The truth is this: Despite its good intentions, the tax cap has not reduced the tax burden facing too many communities.
According to the Tax Foundation, in 2014 New York State ranked second in the country in state and local taxes per capita. Today, after years of the tax cap, we’re number one – and not in a good way.
What the tax cap has done is widen the gap in education funding between wealthy and poor school districts. It has denied our state's poorest school children the educational opportunities provided to those in wealthier districts.
Its not just in New York. Look at what happened in California. In 1978, voters passed Proposition 13, which limited property tax increases to two percent. This led to decades of drastic underfunding for public education, destroying a once robust public education system. Californians are now trying to repeal Proposition 13.
We should not repeat California’s mistake. Instead, New York should replace the temporary cap with something that will actually work.
We need real reform that would prevent people from being taxed out of the communities they love, while also funding the schools and public services that made them fall in love with that community in the first place.
Unfortunately, the illusion of a quick fix is easier than the hard work of real reform. The State Senate has passed a bill making the tax cap permanent. The Governor included it in his budget proposal.
It is up to the Assembly to stop this train so we can a have a real debate about real reform and provide real relief to the people who need it.
Andy Pallotta, a former elementary teacher, is president of the more than 600,000-member New York State United Teachers.
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