ALBANY The New York State United Teachers union has filed court papers to try to toss the recently installed property-tax rebate program adopted by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state Legislature.
The court papers filed Tuesday seeks to include the so-called property-tax freeze in the union's lawsuit against the state's property-tax cap that was installed in 2011. NYSUT claims that the tax cap, along with the tax freeze, are unconstitutional and unfairly dissuades voters from approving school-tax increases.
NYSUT's motion is before state Supreme Court Justice Patrick McGrath in Albany. The initial case was heard last year in state Supreme Court, but several judges have recused themselves and the case has stalled.
If the new judge agrees, NYSUT's case against both the tax cap and tax freeze credit program will be heard by the court.
"The tax freeze, in essence, financially incentivizes school districts and voters to stay within the cap," the lawsuit states. "It also effectively punishes districts, voters, taxpayers and school children in districts where school boards and voters exercises their constitutionally protected right to exceed the cap, by denying tax credits to otherwise eligible taxpayers in such districts."
Cuomo and the Legislature in March agreed as part of the state budget to spend nearly $1 billion a year over the next two years to provide a rebate to homeowners whose local governments and schools stay within the property-tax cap. If they do, homeowners will receive a rebate check for the difference between flat taxes and the cap limit—which has been about a 2 percent increase a year.
Cuomo's budget office estimated that when fully implemented in the second year, in 2015, the average rebate would be $200 upstate and $580 in the New York City suburbs. Westchester County pays the highest property taxes in the nation, and the rebate check there would average at least $800.
Overall, 2.8 million households are expected to get a check this fall, and it's for households with incomes less than $500,000.
NYSUT president Karen Magee said in a statement Friday that the tax freeze and cap are intertwined. And they both violate the state constitution, she contended.
"Public schools are still reeling from budget cuts. The tax freeze program is a gimmick that dangles a check in front of taxpayers as a carrot to go along with the cap's stick," Magee said.
Cuomo has hailed both programs as a way to curb some of the highest property taxes in the nation. The tax freeze will require municipalities and schools in year two to come up with ways to share services in order for homeowners to receive the tax rebate.
"It is a relief to homeowners, but it is also something else," Cuomo said his budget address Jan. 21. "It is an opportunity to fundamentally address the structural cause of high property taxes."