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Senate

The New York Senate meets in Albany Jan. 15.

An effort to make New York's property tax cap permanent appears to have a good chance of passing this year, but it shouldn't be done without a couple of strings attached.

The cap limits local government and school tax increases to 2 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is less. The law have been in force on a temporary basis since 2011, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo wants to make it permanent.

Supporters say the cap benefits taxpayers by keeping local spending increases at reasonable levels. Detractors say it unfairly handcuffs governments and school districts trying to provide the best for their communities.

It's important to remember that New York's property taxes are among the highest in the nation, and it was just a few years ago that school districts and municipalities were sometimes asking taxpayers for double-digit spending increases, so the cap is working with regard to keeping those increases in check.

But the state can't simply demand that local government and schools keep their spending down without also helping to alleviate the burden of costs that are out of their control, such as health care, public safety and mandated educational programming.

Less than a month ago, Cuomo signed a bill to allow early voting in New York but hasn't yet indicated whether state funds will be made available for implementation — an expense that could total more than $30 million statewide.

The formula used to come up with the "2 percent" also needs to be reconfigured so that it will remain more consistent from year to year. The tax-cap math currently leads to situations where some entities are allowed to exceed 2 percent while others are kept flat. In some cases, tax levy increases need to be smaller than the previous year to remain in compliance.

At this point, the Senate has passed the measure while the Assembly may be holding out for a deal on New York City rent stabilization. If it makes it to Cuomo's desk this year, a permanent tax cap must include a plan to reexamine the formula and a reduction in state-mandated costs for local schools and governments.

The Citizen editorial board includes publisher Rob Forcey, executive editor Jeremy Boyer and managing editor Mike Dowd.

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