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Tax Cap: Schools, Dems vs. Public, GOP

NYS Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee (D-Suffern)

Pearl River, Feb 24 — Governor Andrew Cuomo says he’s impatient with the State Assembly’s decision to delay action on enacting a property-tax cap until after a budget is passed. One of the people with whom he is likely to be impatient in is Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee (D-Suffern).

Despite polls showing that 83 percent of voters like the idea of a two percent property tax cap, Jaffee is pushing back and speaking out on behalf of school administrators. ‘€œWe owe it to our children to protect quality education despite the difficult budget decisions ahead,’€ she says. Jaffe invited students and parents to her district office on Thursday to discuss the $20 million in funding Rockland County schools will lose if the governor’s budget plans are implemented.

Jaffee told WRCR radio last week that she’s “leery of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s proposed two percent property tax cap and that Lieutenant Governor Robert Duffy was off base when he suggested state aid shortfalls could be off-set by school districts through the use of reserve funds and teacher salary-freezes.”

A Siena College poll this week said that more than eight out of ten voters favor the tax cap and 60 percent expect it to be enacted this year.

Locally, Rockland’s freshman NYS Democratic senator supports the tax cap and voted for it when it passed in the Senate on Jan 31. ‘€œI am proud to be working with Governor Andrew Cuomo and a bi-partisan coalition to provide taxpayers reprieve from out of control property tax increases,” said Senator David Carlucci. “Residents of the 38th State Senate district have been struggling with skyrocketing property taxes for far too long.’€

What school officials have to say about the governor’s plan differs depending whether they are speaking on or off the record. Nyack Schools’ Trustee Tom LaColla expressed support for a schools’ mandate relief plan announced by Carlucci’s Independent Democratic Caucus. “It seems we are finally at a point where everybody agrees we are on an unsustainable financial path,” LaColla said. “Hopefully all parties will work toward meaningful and genuine reform.”

Privately, other officials are at odds with the governor, the public and the Republican dominated NYS Senate. “Rockland’s senator as well as the governor need to listen to the people that they represent,” says a school board official.  Local districts have to cope with rising health care costs and escalating retirement costs. “The pension issue needs both structural and statutory changes and they are both controlled by the state. It’s outside of the control of local districts.” How serious is this problem? “Public education will cease to exist if the tax cap is enacted on top of the loss of federal and state support,” says another official.

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The battle lines have been drawn with the Senate and executive branches supporting the tax cap and the schools and many Democrats opposed. If Jaffe and school officials hope to maintain the status quo, they would appear to have their work cut out for them.

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