ALBANY -- Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his Democratic opponent Cynthia Nixon sparred Monday over the state's property-tax cap, with Nixon saying schools should have more flexibility under the program.
The tax cap installed by Cuomo in 2011 has been one of his hallmark accomplishments because it has limited the growth in property taxes in New York -- which is among the most expensive places to live in the nation.
But Nixon has been critical of the cap's structure, saying it stifles schools' independence when it comes to taxing its residents.
On Monday, she said she supports the tax cap, but is inclined to drop a provision of the cap that requires school districts to get a 60 percent vote of the public to override it.
Nixon said a simple majority should be all that is necessary to exceed the cap -- which is 2 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is lower.
"What I’ve said is I support the property-tax cap," Nixon told reporters Monday. "I think that we have far too much burden placed on our property owners across New York state."
But she added, "If a locality wants to raise taxes on itself to pay for something like schools, then we should not make it so onerous."
Her stance is similar to one taken by education groups and the teachers' union, which have long sought to dump the supermajority needed to override the cap.
A 60 percent vote is difficult to achieve, and few districts each year try to override the cap.
The issue could a critical one for voters, particularly in the New York City suburbs and upstate.
Westchester County pays the highest property taxes of any county in the nation, while many upstate counties, including Monroe, pay among the highest property taxes compared to home values in the U.S.
Cuomo's campaign charged that Nixon is changing her stance, and Cuomo went on NY1 television in New York City in part to defend the cap and his investment in New York schools through state aid.
Since the cap was installed, Cuomo has shown no interest in making major changes to it -- hailing it for limiting property taxes.
Nixon is challenging Cuomo for the Democratic nomination in the Sept. 13 primary.
“Improv might fly in acting world, but it’s disastrous when it comes to serious governing decisions," Cuomo campaign spokeswoman Lis Smith said of Nixon, the Sex and the City star.
"If Cynthia Nixon had her way on the property tax cap, middle-class homeowners across New York would see tax hikes to the tune of thousands of dollars every year."
Nixon said the characterization by Cuomo's campaign is "100 percent untrue."
After she launched her campaign in March, she called "disastrous" Cuomo's 2 percent cap on state spending.
"What I said is disastrous is the 2 percent state spending cap and his austerity budgets," she said.
Nixon spoke Monday in Albany to the state Association of Small Cities School Districts, which has sued the state for more education aid.
Nixon has made more school aid a key plank of her campaign, and she blasted Cuomo for what she said is a $10,000 spending gap per student between rich and poor schools.
If elected, she vowed to put more money into foundation aid -- the basic aid that each district receives.
"Obviously our system is broken, and we need to fund the foundation formula, which would make it actually a level playing field for students across the state," Nixon said.
Cuomo countered that New York spends more money than any state on its education system.
New York spent $22,366 per pupil at its public schools in 2016 — 90 percent above the national average, the U.S. Census Bureau said last month.
"We have a property tax cap. I passed it," Cuomo said. "We’re spending more money than any state in the United States of America."
Cuomo this year derided how the state doesn't have a full accounting of how the state aid it sends to districts is spent. So the state budget approved April 1 includes a measure requiring more reporting by districts to the state.
"There is an inequity in the funding," Cuomo said. "Yes, we spend more than anyone else, but some children get more than others."
Nixon countered that New York's spending per pupil is skewed because rich districts can raise taxes to fund schools while poor districts are limited in their tax revenue.