Property-Tax-Cap Critics Wrong On Facts & Policy

The proposed property tax cap is both Constitutional and necessary. The New York State Constitution provides that the New York legislature has both a right to restrict local taxation – and a duty to restrict local taxation to prevent tax abuse.

Property-Tax-Cap Critics Wrong On Facts & Policy 

by Elizabeth (Liz) Berney, Esq.

With tax day only a few weeks away, this seems to be an appropriate time to respond to several recent articles in the Great Neck News concerning Congressman Gary Ackerman, state Assemblywoman Michelle Shimel and senior editorial writer Karen Rubin’s arguments for high taxation. In the first segment of this three-part series, I’ll address Ms. Rubin’s baseless constitutional argument against a property-tax cap. In the following two weeks, I’ll discuss Ms. Rubin’s other arguments against a property-tax cap, Assemblywoman Shimel’s regrettable efforts to circumvent a property tax cap, and Congressman Ackerman’s flawed argument that even higher federal taxes are a moral/religious duty.

A bit of background: In January 2011, the Republican-controlled New York State Senate overwhelmingly passed Gov. Cuomo’s “property tax cap” proposal to limit annual local property tax increases to 2 percent or the Consumer Price Index, whichever is lower. Forty-five state senators, including every Republican and 13 Democrats, voted for the proposal, and 17 Democrats opposed it. Although two months have passed since the Senate vote, the Democratic-controlled New York State Assembly has not yet acted on the property tax cap bill, as of the date this article was written.

Assemblywoman Shimel reportedly suggested placing a condition on a tap cap – that it would only go into effect after a failed school budget vote. Shimel’s proposal would make the tax cap ineffective, and leave taxpayers at the mercy of continued high property tax increases.

Ms. Rubin recently wrote that, in her opinion, Gov. Cuomo’s “property tax cap” proposal to limit local property tax increases is unconstitutional. See “State Has No Right To Cap Property Taxes,” by Karen Rubin, Great Neck News, Feb. 18, 2011, p. 13.

Ms. Rubin provided absolutely no basis for her unconstitutionality opinion. Ms. Rubin fundamentally misunderstands our state constitution, and apparently did not bother to read it.

The New York State Constitution actually contains several provisions giving the New York State legislature both the right and the duty to limit local government taxation. These provisions were all approved by votes of the people of New York State.

Article VIII, Section 12, of the New York State Constitution provides that the New York legislature has both a right to restrict local taxation – and a duty to restrict local taxation to prevent tax abuse.  Section 12 was adopted by a Constitutional Convention and vote of the people of New York State in 1938 and amended by a vote of the people in 1963. It is entitled “Powers of local governments to be restricted; further limitations on contracting local indebtedness authorized,” and provides:

“§12.  It shall be the duty of the legislature, subject to the provisions of this constitution, to restrict the power of taxation, assessment, borrowing money, contracting indebtedness, and loaning the credit of counties, cities, towns and villages, so as to prevent abuses in taxation and assessments and in contracting of indebtedness by them.  Nothing in this article shall be construed to prevent the legislature from further restricting the powers herein specified of any county, city, town, village or school district to contract indebtedness or to levy taxes on real estate.  The legislature shall not, however, restrict the power to levy taxes on real estate for the payment of interest on or principal of indebtedness theretofore contracted.”  (Emphasis added.)

In addition, Article VIII, Section 10 of the New York State Constitution, entitled “Limitations on amount to be raised by real estate taxes for local purposes; exceptions,” contains specific restrictions on local governmental taxation powers. Section 10 also provides that the New York State legislature has the power to enact even further restrictions on local taxation, as follows:

“Nothing contained in this section shall be deemed to restrict the powers granted to the legislature by other provisions of this constitution to further restrict the powers of any county, city, town, village or school district to levy taxes on real estate.”

The New York State Assembly should join with the New York State Senate, and exercise its duty to save New Yorkers from abusive property tax increases by enacting a property tax cap. For reasons which I’ll discuss next week, the era of runaway property tax increases on New York’s citizens needs to end.

(Author’s Note: This article was first published in the Great Neck News, New Hyde Park Courier, and Williston Times on April 7, 2011.)

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