Teachers union files lawsuit challenging the state's property tax cap

Feb 21, 2013

New York state's largest teachers union has filed a lawsuit challenging the state’s property tax cap, arguing it is unconstitutional.

New York State United Teachers President Dick Iannuzzi says the cap, passed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the legislature in 2011, arbitrarily limits property tax increases to two percent, regardless of whether a school district is rich or poor. The lawsuit also charges that the tax cap violates the principle of "one person one vote," because a supermajority of 60 percent of voters is required to override the cap.  

“We filed the lawsuit because there is clearly an inequitable funding of education in New York state,” said Iannuzzi.
Cuomo counts the property tax cap as one of his proudest achievements. His spokesman called the teachers union's action an “irresponsible, special interest lawsuit” that would undermine progress that has been made to stop “skyrocketing property tax increases on homeowners and businesses.”

“We have one of the most expensive and one of the least productive education systems, Cuomo said.  “The answer that it’s more money, more money , more money, I reject."

Cuomo says he thinks steps like establishing teacher evaluation plans will do more to improve education in the state.

Brian Sampson, with the pro-business group Unshackle Upstate, says the tax cap was enacted because the state’s property taxes are  78 percent above the national average, and New York has nine of the ten highest counties in the nation for property taxes as a percentage of home values.

“Property taxes were becoming an obstacle and a burden to home ownership,” said Sampson. “But also to the business communities.”

He says the teachers union is trying to avoid making union concessions, like giving up some collective bargaining laws that the business group believes favors unions over management.

But Sampson says he agrees that there’s unfairness in the way school aid is distributed in New York. “The formula is flawed,” Sampson said.

He says a larger solution may mean wealthier districts have to give up some of their aid to poorer schools.

NYSUT got some support for its lawsuit from another union leader. The AFL-CIO’s Mario Cilento says the “undemocratic and arbitrary cap” has “done nothing but tie the hands of school districts at exactly the wrong time.”

But the leader of the Republicans in the state Senate, Dean Skelos, says the lawsuit has “no merit."