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State can't cap taxes and still impose mandates

We can all agree that Gov.-elect Andrew M. Cuomo is inheriting a fiscal mess in Albany. He has been cited as stating that capping property taxes will be a top priority for his administration. Of course residents want a cap on their property taxes; who wants to give away more of their income to the government? However, no one is talking about the impact and consequences of capping taxes on the services and programs we have come to expect and enjoy.

Property taxes support local municipal programs and services. Since school district budgets are the only budget on which residents have a chance to vote, a tax cap denies local residents the opportunity to have that voice.

In my school district, the mandated increases that the district must pay into the retirement systems alone will result in a tax levy increase of more than 2 percent, yet Cuomo is promoting a maximum tax increase of 2 percent.

In other words, if his legislation is successful, my district would not be able to raise the revenue to even cover costs that the state mandates the district to pay.

New York State's constitution guarantees children a sound, basic education. Each locality should be able to determine what that means in a democratic way, which is why residents have the opportunity to vote on their district's school budgets.

Many rural districts around the state rely on state aid as a major portion of their revenue; in my district, state aid comprises approximately 48 percent or our revenue. If the state must reduce its financial support for public education to bring the expenditure side of its budget in line, then it is absurd, at the same time, to deny the local district the opportunity to raise the funds necessary to support its programs and opportunities by imposing a tax cap.

Every year, by the results of their voting on school budgets, local residents are choosing their own tax cap. If residents believe the proposed school budget provides too much or costs too much, they will vote it down. If residents vote a budget down twice, there is already a legislatively imposed cap on how much the budget expenditures can increase.

One of the main reasons people choose where to live is the quality of the school system. When people purchase a house, the amount of property taxes is disclosed; it's not a surprise.

Imposing a tax cap while cutting state aid will destroy the public education system in this state. The governor-elect must first eliminate all unfunded mandates that have been placed on schools and municipalities before he caps the opportunity to raise the funds necessary to meet them.

The state cannot continue to tell districts they must do this and they must do that and then take away the funds to do so and then tell the school districts they can't raise the funds to provide a good education. It's absurd!


Bruce D. Amey is superintendent of the Avon Central School District.

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