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State mulls tax cap ... again

Popular measure has been tough sell in previous years

The debate over a property tax cap is raging once again, after the state Senate last week overwhelmingly approved a cap that would limit local tax levies to 4 percent growth annually. Gov. David Paterson, an advocate of a cap, has vowed to call the legislature to Albany in October to put the proposal to the Assembly.

Property taxes have been a stubborn problem for New Yorkers, with tax bills in the state 79 percent above the national average.

Recent polls show that citizens are not ignorant to this fact 76 percent of New Yorkers would support a cap, according to a Siena Research Institute poll. High taxes are often cited as a contributor to thousands leaving the state every year.

A 4-percent cap is probably too high," said Brian Sampson, executive director of Unshackle Upstate, an advocacy group. He pointed to budgets coming from schools and local governments last year, which mostly had relatively low levy increases.

"When forced to make tough decisions, they can make them," he said.

While advocates of the cap can point to the tax burden shouldered by property owners, schools and municipalities contend a cap is merely the state passing the buck instead of fixing its own problems.

"It could be devastating and could lead to more massive cuts, especially if the state aid situation continues next year," said Bethlehem Central School District Superintendent Michael Tebbano.

Tebbano said he understands the call for a tax cap, but a better solution would be for the state to relax its lengthy list of unpaid mandates imposed on districts.

"They require us to do more mandates in New York state for school districts than any other state," he said.

On this point, Sampson agreed.

"There has to be a mechanism that eliminates unfunded mandates coming from the state," he said. "It does you no good to cap things and then basically handcuff everybody."

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