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Scarsdale's McGill Rails Against Proposed Tax Cap

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's proposed tax cap legislation has Scarsdale schools Superintendent Michael McGill and other administrators enraged, calling the legislation a "short-sighted political maneuver."

"All-in-all, from this end, it looks like a cynical, expedient maneuver that is meant to bolster the governor's presidential ambitions because nobody is in favor of high taxes," McGill said.

The proposed law would cap property taxes, preventing them from increasing by more than two percentage points without a 60 percent approval vote from the community. The legislation had yet to be voted on in Albany as of about 8 p.m. Wednesday.

"To me, the most fundamentally uncontainable aspect of this is that it is undemocratic. It imposes a supermajority," said McGill, pointing out that raising taxes is not the same as making changes to the constitution, which requires a supermajority. "These are operating decisions they are not questions of fundamental government structure."

Superintendent McGill said that if Scarsdale and other affluent communities continue to vote the way they have in the past – routinely with a 70 percent threshold in Scarsdale – budgets will continue to pass despite this legislation.

However, less affluent communities, "Will be destined to multiple years of what will amount to budget cuts that will have a dramatic impact," said McGill. "We recognize economic backgrounds are tied to race and what we are about to do is reinforce the inequalities that got us here in the first place."

Linda S. Purvis, assistant superintendent for business for Scarsdale schools, said that Eastchester, for example, passed its budget by 55 percent and therefore could see draconian cuts as a result of this legislation.

"The whole definition of free public education is at risk here," said Purvis. "For education in general this is a terrible, terrible thing."

This tax cap legislation comes after years of local property taxpayers carrying an increasing share of the burden to fund school district budgets since the state has cut its aid contribution nearly every year. Meanwhile, school districts must continue to fund state mandates for items such as special education, teacher pensions, health insurance and more.

"The state even tells us what temperature we have to keep the buildings at," said Purvis. "So much of what we spend is because the state says we have to spend it. It is insanity to pretend school districts have control of every penny."

An online petition was initiated two weeks ago by a newly formed, grass-roots advocacy group – the NYSCLE. The link to this petition can be found at www.NYSPTA.org.

"What is so astonishing about this is it is getting no press,” McGill said. “This is like a non-event. Meanwhile there are huge headlines on rent control and gay marriage. In the long run this is going to affect far more people and have consequences that are longer lasting."

A phone call to the Governor's office Wednesday was not returned.

What is your opinion on the proposed property tax cap? Please leave comments below.

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