Just so we’re all clear on the 2 percent tax cap imposed on local governments and school districts last year, it’s not really a 2 percent cap. Two percent is just the starting point for a bunch of calculations, and whatever the cap turns out to be for a particular entity, it is by no means absolute. It can easily be overridden, as the Schenectady County Legislature is likely to demonstrate tomorrow night.
All an override requires is approval of 60 percent of the members of the local governing body — or in Schenectady’s case, 60 percent of the weighted vote of its members, which in most scenarios is the same thing, meaning nine out of 15 members rather than a simple majority of eight, though the clerk of the Legislature, Geoffrey Hall, advises me there are combinations of votes that could require 10. It hardly matters, since 13 of the Legislature’s 15 members are Democrats and can be expected to play as a team.
And the cap is not 2 percent in this case, it’s 2.95 percent, allowance being made for increases in pension costs, among other things.
The most you can say is that raising taxes above the theoretical cap is an inconvenience, albeit a slight one. A legislative body like Schenectady’s can’t just pass a budget with an alarming tax increase in one quick swoop like it could before. Now, under the tax-cap law, it must first hold a public hearing on whether to do such a thing, which Schenectady County did on Friday. Then it must pass a local law authorizing the higher rate, which it plans to do tomorrow. Then it must hold a public hearing on the budget itself, and then it must pass the budget, tentatively scheduled for Oct. 17.
All of this time the X-ray-like eyes of the public are supposedly bearing down on it, and the Legislature is being subjected to the most withering scrutiny. Supposedly.
School districts are different. If they want to exceed their tax caps they have to get 60 percent of the voting public, a far greater challenge. In the case of town boards, which most often have five members, there is really no challenge at all, since 60 percent of the body is the same as a simple majority; it’s three.
Some innocent souls — including me — thought a 2 percent tax cap meant that our local taxes would be able to go up only 2 percent a year, but when we got to studying the fine print we found out otherwise. You couldn’t run a government like that, at least not while keeping the pensions of public retirees at a comfortable level.
Still, I do believe it’s an improvement. If nothing else it brings attention to bear. It prompts headlines like, “Town to bust tax cap.”
After taking a few days to digest the hard reality, state Sen. Roy McDonald called it quits, announcing that he would not campaign on the only line he was left with, that of the Independence Party, but would support the candidate who beat him in the Republican primary, Kathy Marchione.
In a prepared statement, he thanked Gov. Andrew Cuomo for his “outstanding support,” and then went on to list his own “proudest accomplishments,” which included the following:
• helping National Guard and Reserve veterans obtain the benefits they had earned.
• setting up a pilot program to help veterans suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome.
• promoting the “historical significance and agricultural importance” of the Saratoga-Washington County region, which he represents.
• co-sponsoring legislation to bring Global Foundries to the region.
• helping persons with disabilities, a particular interest of his.
• taking part in the passage of two on-time budgets.
• taking part in cutting taxes for the middle class.
But not a word about gay marriage! Not a word!
The one issue that he became most identified with, since his switched vote, along with a couple of others, allowed it to pass. And the one issue that did him in, since a lot of Republicans regarded it as betrayal.
I gave him credit for standing on principle and taking the hit, but I guess he’d rather forget about it. Oh, well.
Rummaging through my desk, I come upon a couple of old clippings that still have the zing of youth about them. Both are headlines from this newspaper. One says, “Site for new library remains up in the air,” the other, “How to try city woman up in the air.”
I intend to turn them over to a local Zen center for contemplation, where I trust they will be appreciated.
Carl Strock is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in his column are his own and not necessarily the newspaper's. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.