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Editorial: A tax cap without teeth

We’d like to get the ball rolling and start the call for property tax reform in New York State. Again.

As we enter the height of budgeting season for governments across the Capital District, the talk everywhere is focusing on the new tax cap, which goes into effect in 2012.

We’ve known since the law was passed over the summer that there are significant exemptions built into the supposedly 2 percent cap, but now that things are under way we decided to take a closer look at what the cap is truly turning out to be in our communities.

John Purcell’s page one story on the cap lays out the eight-step calculation to finding a municipality’s tax increase limit (and a few of the many exemptions that would further affect taxes). It’s no wonder that that state comptroller is calling in government officials for crash courses on the new regulations.

What schools, towns and counties around the area are finding is that 2 percent means anything but.

Now, those in the know would argue that these many exceptions are necessary to create a fair baseline for municipal governments. There’s some truth to that; as anyone will tell you, a dollar today isn’t worth the same as a dollar was 10 years ago.

Still, we won’t be surprised if residents end up feeling jilted when staring down budgets that carry tax hikes above that magical 2 percent figure. Government may make its home in the fine print, but rarely is the discrepancy between promise and reality so blatant.

A property tax cap was once considered something of an impossibility, and with good reason. It’s an Upstate issue that was also strongly opposed by unions with a lot of clout, not the least being the New York State United Teachers.

So when one was passed into law this summer, it was accompanied by much back-slapping and attaboys at the Capitol. It’s undeniably the crown jewel of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s upstate accolades.

Surely what happens this year will be studied with great interest by lawmakers far and wide who are facing their own taxation issues. We would suggest our own elected officials do the same, and ask whether what they’ve done is meaningful reform or another hindrance for local governments to sidestep.

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