Governor’s Tax Cap Unfair to Schools

This year, the tax-levy increase allowed for schools that are unable to win an almost two-thirds majority in a budget vote is .12 percent.

So what gives? Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo says he wants the state to spend $3 billion to redo the gloomy Penn Station in Manhattan, and at the same time he has his hands on the throats of school districts, which are being squeezed by his signature tax cap. 

This year, the tax-levy increase allowed for schools that are unable to win an almost two-thirds majority in a budget vote is .12 percent. This means that for a district like Springs, which is expecting enrollment to continue to climb, getting enough in taxes to adequately educate all of its children will be more difficult. Proposed increases in state aid are not likely to make up the difference. It’s odd, frankly, that Mr. Cuomo would want to be so generous with city commuters while kicking struggling public schools in the shins.

The tax cap is grossly unfair. Town boards and other government entities that do not face public votes on their budgets can easily vote to exceed the annual limit. In East Hampton, just three of the five town board members need agree to go past this year’s .12 percent. For a school tax to rise more than that, it would take 60 percent of those voting to say yes — a very high hurdle indeed.

Fredrick U. Dicker, writing in The New York Post last week, cited an unnamed Albany source that claimed Mr. Cuomo’s leftward posturing — money for transit! — is all about returning to Washington, where he was secretary of housing in the Bill Clinton administration. The calculation is complicated, but would center on Mr. Cuomo’s seeking the Democratic nomination for president in 2020. In the meantime, you would hope he would at least try to improve the public schools. Instead, he has short-changed prekindergarten funding and has hopes for an education tax credit for wealthy parents of private school students.

Critics of the governor’s education policies have pointed out that at a time when the state is enjoying a billion-dollar annual surplus, the tax cap, at least for schools, should be scrapped entirely. But, of course, if Mr. Cuomo is indeed thinking about a run for the White House someday, a tough-on-taxes record might be something he wants to protect. 

It is in many ways good that Mr. Cuomo’s tax-levy cap forces school districts to be wiser with their finances, but it is wrong to have left it at that. With ultimate control over education resting with Albany, more must be done to help either consolidate districts or control costs without impacting students. As things stand, the governor, State Education Department, and Legislature earn a failing grade.