New York Governor Andrew Cuomo paid a special visit to the Klein family in Pleasantville today.
The governor was in town to symbolically sign the bill that makes the for state municipalities and schools into law, effective fiscal year 2012.
Gov. Cuomo chose Westchester for the occasion—the highest-taxed county in the state and second highest in the country—while Russell and Tara Klein and their four sons played host for the afternoon.
"The governor's office called me yesterday and asked if they could use our front lawn to sign the property tax cap," explained Russell Klein, who added both County Legislator John Nonna and State Senator Andrea-Stewart Cousins were also on the call. "I said I'd be honored."
According to a statement from the governor's office, Westchester homeowners pay an average of $8,474 in property taxes annually, while the national average is $1,917 and the state median is $3,755.
Many local governments and school districts have been critical of the bill, which some have said needs to be coupled with strong mandate relief to be viable, in order to offset rising costs and unfunded mandates.
Cuomo said the law will force local governments "to live within their means."
Under the new law, school districts can propose budgets that carry a tax rate increase of more than 2 percent only if 60 percent of voters agree to override the law, "because we want the odds in favor of the taxpayer this time," said Cuomo.
"I agree with everything the governor expressed," Klein said. "But I think we still need to figure out the school part." Two of Klein's four sons are still students in the Pleasantville School District and his wife is active on many educational committees.
Exceptions to the law are as follows, according to the statement:
- Judgments or court orders arising out of tort actions that exceed 5 percent of the localities' levy
- Certain growth in pension costs where the system's average rate increases by more than 2 percentage points from the previous year; the amount of contributions above the 2 percentage points will be excluded from the limit
- Growth in tax levies due to economic development
"This is going to end the madness, finally, once and for all," said Cuomo.
Responding to questions about mandate relief and whether the cap actually solves the issue of rising tax burdens, Cuomo said: "From the home owner'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."