NY Senate GOP Pressures Assembly Dems on Property Tax Cap

Republicans in the Senate and Assembly are stepping up the pressure on Assembly Democrats to approve Governor Andrew Cuomo’s two-percent, across-the-board property tax cap for schools and local governments.

Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb say they've started a petition to get average citizens to pressure Democrats in the Assembly to allow an up or down vote on Governor Cuomo’s property tax cap that would limit tax growth to two percent per year. Skelos says the Senate approved Cuomo’s plan on January 31st, now it’s the Assembly’s turn.

"We passed the governor’s program bill," said Skelos. "We are sticking with the governor."

The stepped up pressure by Republicans comes one day after Assembly Democrats approved a one house bill to change New York City’s rent laws, to make it harder for landlords to remove units from rent regulation and place them on the free market, at higher prices.

Speaker Silver has said that the two issues are thematically linked, because the goal of both sets of legislation is to help people afford to stay in their homes.

Both majority party leaders are calling on Cuomo to step in and broker a deal between the two houses on rent reform and the property tax cap. On Monday, Silver asked Cuomo to use his “clout” with the Senate. On Tuesday Skelos urged the governor to have a “serious conversation” with Speaker Silver and the Assembly Democrats.

“It’s the Assembly Democrats for some reason, who just can’t seem to mesh well with the Democrat governor of this state,” said Skelos.

The governor, who has said both issues are top priorities for him, is publicly staying out of the fight for now. In a statement, Cuomo said “we must pass a real, meaningful property tax cap for the people of the State of New York. I understand that it takes good faith negotiations to get that done in a democratic process.”

Senate Leader Skelos would not directly answer media questions about whether he’d ultimately accept a watered down version of a property tax cap, with carve outs for pension costs, or perhaps a higher cap ceiling at three or four percent.

Assembly Speaker Silver, speaking after a meeting with Assembly Democrats Tuesday, predicts the cap will be approved, and won’t differ that significantly from Cuomo’s original bill, and will “probably” include the two percent cap with “very limited” exemptions.

“Not ordinary expenses,” said Silver.

A number of lawmakers, as well as groups affected by the proposed property tax cap, like school boards, have said mandate relief is essential to making a tax cap work. The governor convened a panel on mandate relief, but it came up with few new ideas. School boards would like more union concessions such as the freedom to charge employees more for health care, offer less generous pension benefits, and even freeze wages. Teachers unions have opposed those measures.

Skelos says he believes that by the end of the session the legislature will agree to act on some “significant” mandate relief.

Polls show voters care deeply about both issues. A recent poll by Siena College found that capping property taxes was the number one item for voters statewide. In New York City, voters rate reforming the city’s rent regulations as a higher priority, coming in a close second after ethics reform.

Lawmakers will not be acting on either measure until at least next month. They are taking a break from April 14th until May 2nd.