Standing on Pleasantville couple Russell and Tara Klein's front lawn this afternoon, New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo stating local governments and school districts cannot raise their annual property tax levies by more than 2 percent or the rate of inflation—whichever is lower—beginning next year.
"This will end the madness [of increasing property taxes] finally—once and for all," Cuomo said. "It will mean governments will have to live within their means and balance their budgets."
Under the law, local communities can override the cap for school budget votes, but only if 60 percent of voters agree.
"Why 60 percent?" the Governor asked, rhetorically. "This time we want the odds in favor of the taxpayers."
Hastings Board of Education president Eileen Baecher doesn't agree.
"I don't know why 'no' votes count more than 'yes' votes," she said.
Baecher and Dobbs Ferry school board president Jeffrey O'Donnell said the only way for the cap not to be detrimental to public education is if the state lifts—or at least amends—a number of the mandates imposed on public schools.
"When you limit the amount of revenue that can come in, you can't continue to burden districts with mandates that cost money—when the districts don't have any money with which to do them," O'Donnell said.
Russell Klein, whose front lawn may never recover from Thursday's historic signing, said he also was ambivalent. A small-business owner, Klein pays $16,000 in property taxes every year—more than four times the median in New York State.
"I agree with everything the governor expressed," he said. "But I think we still need to figure out the school part."
Two of Klein's four sons are still students in the and his wife, Tara, is active member of the Pleasantville Special Education Parent Teacher Association (SEPTA).
"Of course I worry about the quality of education here," he said.
Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino said the law "is a very good first step at reducing the tax burden that punishes too many families and businesses in our state," pointing out the county has taken similar steps, first by reducing .
Next year, said Astorino, he has pledged a zero percent tax increase.
Responding to questions about mandate relief and whether the cap actually solves the issue of rising tax burdens, Cuomo said: "From the homeowner's perspective, this is the full equation."
Local and school officials who argue against state mandates, "have a point," Cuomo said. "We're working to do even more to decrease the burden."
Pleasantville Mayor Peter Scherer asked the governor for just that on his way out.
"I know, I'm working on it," responded Cuomo.
State Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-35) applauded the governor's effort: "The law ensures that the discussion about mandate relief is ongoing by creating the Mandate Relief Council," she said.
The law does include a series of measures designed to provide relief from state mandates placed on municipalities, counties and school districts. These include changes to requirements for contracts being entered into, as well as giving discretion to the local districts to consider ridership as a factor in providing bus service.
But the most onerous mandates on school districts—such as the pension system and the Triborough Amendment—which regulates employee compensation when unions are in between contracts—have not at this point been addressed.
"If pensions could be funded at the state level that would take a lot of pressure off of local budgets," Hastings' Baecher said.
Briarcliff Manor resident Si Spiegel, who has lived in the same home for 41 years, said he is happy with what the governor did.
"But I am concerned that we don't repeat the mistakes made in California," he said. "We have a lot of services here we need to protect. Now, in California, schools and prisons are severely overcrowded. The situation is much worse than before the cap."
See for the original story and photos from the event. View the whole conference on PCTV's website here.