The New York State Teachers Union filed a lawsuit on February 19, 2013, challenging the constitutionality of the state’s 2% cap on property tax increases. The plaintiffs, teachers, taxpayers and parents, mainly from school districts that sought unsuccessfully to raise local property taxes by amounts greater than the sums allowed by the caps, named Governor Andrew Cuomo, Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, and Education Commissioner John King as defendants. New York State United Teachers v. New York.
Enacted by state legislators in 2011, the tax cap legislation prevents school boards from increasing local property taxes by more than the rate of inflation or 2%, whichever is less, unless at least 60% of a school district’s voters approve the increase. The complaint alleges that this measure “has the effect of perpetuating and widening the existing gross education funding inequities between school districts,” because low-income communities are often more dependent on local property tax rates because of their relatively low property valuations. The parents in the lawsuit have children in districts that failed to secure the necessary supermajority vote to increase tax rates above the rate of inflation, although the increases did have majority approval. The complaint describes the program and staffing cuts that these schools have already had to make to stay afloat and serve their students, large numbers of whom are in poverty. Plaintiffs present the schools as in need of additional funds in order to provide meaningful educational opportunities to their students, but unable to raise the necessary money because of the tax cap.
Plaintiffs argue that the cap is a violation of the state’s education clause, which guarantees every New York child the right to a sound basic education. They also argue that it violates the equal protection clauses in both the state and federal constitutions because the supermajority requirement violates one man-one vote principles and because in practice it applies more stringently to schools than to municipalities and other state entities.