We wonder if Gov. Andrew Cuomo noticed the results of Tuesday’s merger vote in the Mayfield and Northville school districts.
Cuomo proposes using the savings realized from such mergers to subsidize local property tax freezes next year, but judging from what happened in Fulton County, he may have trouble finding takers. If the promise of $18 million in extra aid over 15 years couldn’t persuade Northville voters to OK the merger (they shot it down by a 2-1 margin), how likely would municipalities be to approve such consolidations with even smaller incentives?
Admittedly, the merger would have raised Northville’s relatively low school taxes 10 percent the first year, but they would have leveled off for a decade after that; moreover, a merger would have made spared the combined school district from having to make the deep program cuts both of the individual districts have had to make in recent years in the face of sharply declining enrollment.
Rejection of such mergers has been the rule, rather than the exception, among school districts, counties and towns statewide; the lure of a 2 percent tax incentive seems unlikely to change that.
It’s not that property taxes in New York aren’t high; it’s that the state has other needs — the universal pre-kindergarten Cuomo also mentioned in his State of the State being one of them, and the inequity of school funding he didn’t mention being another. And even though the state’s financial picture has brightened since the recession ended, we still may not be out of the woods: With tax revenue growth expected to slow nationally this year, the state budget division is already forecasting a $1.7 billion deficit by 2015.
So while cutting taxes is an attractive idea politically in an election year, it’s probably not the most fiscally responsible thing to do. And lawmakers have already approved mailing $350 rebate checks to families with earnings between $40,000 and $300,000 shortly before Election Day — costing the state $1.1 billion over three years.
Finally, the governor’s property tax cuts would be so unevenly applied (entirely excluding New York City, for example) that they would create division among Albany’s political factions. So he would be better off narrowing his focus to business tax relief, and saving leftover money for more pressing needs.