Tax Cap Bill Would Give Voters Chance to Decide Town, Village Budgets

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By Jude Seymour

Assemblywoman Addie Russell, who was our guest on the noon broadcast Wednesday, said I erred in my recent explanation of how a municipality could override Gov. Cuomo's tax cap.

Cuomo has proposed forcing local governments to cap the increase in their tax levies, or amount to be raised by taxes, at 2 percent or 120 percent of inflation, whichever is less. His bill awaits action in the Assembly after passing the Senate.

The bill allows a village, town or county goverment to exceed the cap if it:

  • Introduces a local law that says the government will be allowed to override the tax levy limit
  • Waits at least 60 days and puts that law up for a public vote
  • The vote passes and two-thirds of the village board, town council or county legislature agree to adopt the local law.

There's at least two elements that make this very interesting.

First, it empowers voters to decide the limits of their village, town or county budget. Currently, a taxpayer can voice their opinion on the annual budget at a public hearing - but the lawmakers are under no obligation to cater to any demands or accept any advice.

If this bill became law, voters would have to choose: Do I allow my local government to collect a bigger pot of money from taxes than what the state has allowed? Or do I tell them to live within the limts? A voter could justify saying yes to an increase if they knew that extra tax money would save a vital program - or a friend's job. But a voter could justify saying no because they'd know their taxes would be less in a capped situation than they would be in an uncapped scenario.

Second, it forces governments to decide sooner whether they need to raise more than the allowed amount from taxpayers. In Jefferson County, the Legislature has traditionally discussed any levy increases after November elections.

Politically, it's a smart move, because it doesn't allow voters to take out their frustrations about any potential personal tax increase by voting against the incumbent, so to speak.

If this bill passes, though, Jefferson County's budget team will have to decide by August or September if it, at the very least, wants to have the option of exceeding the cap. (I'm assuming they'll want to hold the referendum during November elections, so they don't cost themselves more money.)

That's my interpretation at least - at least until another bill reader comes and corrects my thinking.

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Monday, July 28, 2014
, Watertown, NY

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