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Another Voice: State government: Tax cap is working and should be made permanent

Dottie Gallagher-Cohen and Greg Biryla

Western New Yorkers pay among the highest property taxes in the nation. In 2010, the median Erie County property tax paid was $3,278 against a national median of $2,043. Statistics like that helped persuade state leaders to enact a real property tax cap in 2011. It was a critical first step toward bringing the growth of real property taxes under control.

It is clear that the tax cap is working. It has provided tremendous benefits to taxpayers because it has forced local governments and school districts to control their spending. The tax cap imposes on them the same fiscal discipline that New York’s families and businesses must live with every day.

But the tax cap will expire unless Albany takes steps to extend it. We think that the property tax cap experiment has been very successful, and believe it should be made permanent in 2015.

From 1982-2012, school taxes in Western New York increased by more than 5 percent annually, on average. Since the cap went into effect in 2012, the region’s annual average school tax increase was held to below 2.5 percent. This year, 96 of 98 Western New York school districts’ proposed budgets stayed within the cap, all of which were passed by voters. This shows that school districts can live within the cap, and that the public wants them to.

The vast majority of local governments are living within the cap as well.

While our taxes are still too high, bringing tax increases closer to the rate of inflation represents significant progress. Lower annual property tax increases means more money for New York’s taxpayers. Since its enactment, the real property tax cap has saved Western New York taxpayers $449 million.

High property taxes hold back our economy by stifling economic growth. They discourage people from moving to New York, and from investing and starting businesses here.

The property tax cap enjoys broad public support. A Siena Research Institute poll conducted in late May found that 73 percent of New Yorkers statewide believe the tax cap is working, with even greater support found upstate, where 77 percent of respondents indicated their support for the cap. There are few issues in the Empire State that enjoy such strong and widespread support.

Over the last four years, we have seen some of the lowest rates of property tax growth in taxing entities throughout our state. This is a trend that must continue. Before this year’s legislative session comes to an end in mid-June, it is critical that our leaders in Albany do the right thing for Western New York’s overburdened families and hardworking property owners and make the property tax cap permanent.

Dottie Gallagher-Cohen is president and CEO of Buffalo Niagara Partnership. Greg Biryla is executive director of Unshackle Upstate.