By Daniel Wiessner
ALBANY, N.Y., Feb 20 (Reuters) - New York's largest teachers
union on Wednesday sued to overturn the state's cap on annual
property tax increases, claiming it perpetuates inequities
between wealthy and poor school districts.
Under the cap, which took effect last year, school districts
and local governments may raise property taxes each year by up
to 2 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is lower.
School districts, which are funded through property taxes and
state aid, may override the cap if 60 percent of local residents
vote to do so. The cap does not apply to New York City.
In a lawsuit filed in State Supreme Court in Albany, New
York State United Teachers said that by limiting the amount of
money school districts can raise, the tax cap violates the
state's constitutional obligation to provide a "sound basic
education" to all students.
"While, on its face, the tax cap gives the appearance of
equality, in effect the tax cap locks in existing inequalities,
and has a disproportionate, negative impact on the ability of
the lower wealth districts and their voters to provide
educational opportunity to school children," the complaint said.
The union is seeking to overturn the cap as it applies to
school districts, not local governments.
A spokesman for Governor Andrew Cuomo said in a statement
that most school districts have been able to maneuver within the
cap, and that it has served to rein in skyrocketing property
"This special-interest lawsuit is a fiscally irresponsible
move that seeks to undermine the progress that has been made,"
said the spokesman, Richard Azzopardi.
The lawsuit also said the requirement that school districts
secure 60 percent approval in budget votes to override the cap
violates equal protection because it applies only to schools,
and not to municipalities.
It said the 60 percent rule "arbitrarily and
discriminatorily places a higher hurdle on school district
voters who favor providing enhanced educational opportunities to
The office of New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli,
who is listed as a defendant, did not immediately return a
request for comment. A spokeswoman for the state Education
Department declined to comment.
The case is New York State United Teachers v. New York, New
York State Supreme Court, Albany County No. 963-2013.
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