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Cuomo Signs Tax Cap into Law in Pleasantville

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Gov. Andrew Cuomo, surrounded by local state legislators, signs the tax cap bill into law in Pleasantville.

After years of discussion, it took Gov. Andrew Cuomo six months in office to sign a property tax cap into law.

Cuomo officially signed the bill on Thursday afternoon during a ceremony in Pleasantville that will limit village, town, city, school district and fire and special district budgets to an annual tax levy increase of 2 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is lower. The bill is in effect starting Friday through June 15, 2015.

The state legislature passed the measure last week as part of an omnibus bill tied to rent control and rent stabilization reforms in New York City and Westchester and some mandate relief.

“This is going to end the madness, finally, once and for all,” Cuomo said moments before he signed the bill on the lawn of Grove Street residents Tara and Russell Klein. “New York’s future and the future of this state is going to be brighter when we get taxes and regulation under control.”

Cuomo was joined by members of the Westchester delegation of the state legislature, County Executive Rob Astorino and local and county officials. In explaining the advantages of the cap, the governor said that over the years skyrocketing property taxes have been the “most destructive force” in the state, forcing many homeowners and business owners to flee New York and reducing the home values of the residents who remain.

Now, municipalities will no longer be able to saddle their residents with taxes that are out of step with reality.

“It means for local governments what every family in the state did; they’re going to have to figure out how to live within their means and how to balance their budget and the answer can’t be that every year the government spends more money and goes to the taxpayer and says you have to find more taxes,” Cuomo said.

The measure has been lauded by Republicans and Democrats at every level of government despite deep reservations about the large number of mandates still in effect that could handcuff municipalities and school districts in the coming years.

After his official remarks, Cuomo said the mandate issue is a conversation he plans to have with local officials across the state but gave no specifics on timeframe or scope.

“They have a point,” he said. “We’ve relieved many of the mandates already. We’re going to be working with the local governments to relieve more mandates. But from the homeowners’ point of view they wanted their taxes capped.”

Astorino, a Republican, and Democratic State Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins agreed more work needs to be done, particularly regarding mandates, relief for taxpayers had to start somewhere.

“The tax cap is a very good first step in relieving the tax burden that punishes so many businesses and families in this state,” Astorino said.

Stewart-Cousins said the bill does provide more than $100 million in mandate relief this year and places a moratorium on new mandates.

Tara Klein, a former president of Pleasantville SEPTA, and who along with her husband pays more than $16,000 a year in property taxes, applauded the efforts of Cuomo and the legislature to help taxpayers. She said she is also aware of its impact on schools but remains “cautiously optimistic” that the cap will provide the impetus to address unfunded mandates.

“I think in the end what people are concerned about, and especially me as a parent of a special education child, is how will special education be impacted if they do not address the mandate relief,” Klein said.

Pleasantville Mayor Peter Scherer said it is not known how the tax cap will affect the village until next spring when the 2012-13 budget is proposed. Scherer said he “wholeheartedly endorses this overall concept.” He said Cuomo is correct that taxes are out of control, but wished there was some more immediate relief from pension rules and employee disability and health care costs.

“I would be a lot happier with a 2 percent tax cap if it came along with protection from some of the things that are just killing us,” he said.

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