When the last legislative session began, Governor Cuomo and the Senate decided to enact an important measure to reign in out-of-control property tax increases. With bi-partisan support in the Senate and the Assembly, a 2 percent property tax cap was passed to slow the growth of taxes being imposed on families and businesses throughout the state and especially here on Long Island.
Governor Cuomo recently explained the need for a tax cap:
Hello, I'm Governor Andrew Cuomo, and I’d like to take a few minutes to talk to you about what's going on in our economy, and what it means for you. As we all know, these are tough economic times. From the kitchen table to the halls of Congress, people are making hard choices. Choices about priorities, about direction, about value. With all of the debate about how to best solve our economic problems at least one thing is clear, we must be smart, cut waste and we must do more with less. And while it is certainly difficult, it is not impossible.
We proved that this year in Albany when we adopted the State Budget earlier this year we actually changed the culture of spending in Albany. It was tough, but we did it, and we're the better for it. However your tax dollars don't just go to the state, they also go to your local governments. And local property taxes are simply out of control. The fifteen highest taxed counties in the country are all here in New York State. Orleans County is the number one in the nation for the highest property taxes, followed by Niagara, Monroe, Allegany, Wayne, Cortland, Genesee, Chautauqua and Seneca Counties. In absolute dollars, Nassau County residents pay the highest property taxes in the country. And Westchester and Rockland are in the top five. Property taxes have been growing at more than six percent a year for the last decade. That's more than personal income has grown and it's double the rate of inflation. And while property taxes have been rising, home values have plummeted. These ever increasing property taxes are putting a heavy burden on New Yorkers. Families are having trouble paying the mortgage. They're cutting back at the grocery store, and they are being forced to choose between saving for college and retirement or paying the tax bill.
That's why for over a decade, Albany has tried to pass a cap on local property taxes and finally, finally this year we got it done. The property tax cap limits increases in school and local property taxes to two percent a year, or the rate of inflation, whichever is less. Local governments can go beyond the cap if sixty percent of the relevant local body approves, but by requiring a sixty percent vote we put the odds in favor of the people finally. Because the cap is about putting you and your neighbor back in control of your communities' spending. It creates an important dialogue, it stops the automatic increases year after year, and it lets you decide whether a tax increase is really necessary. And, as you decide, you deserve to know the facts. Start with the cost of bureaucracy. In our schools, over the past fifteen years, the number of supervisory staff has increased thirty-four percent, while the number of teachers has increased nine percent, and student enrollment has actually dropped four percent. Today, New York spending on school administration is fifty-one percent above the national average. The salaries of top administrators are off the charts, more than two thousand administrators or managers make at least one hundred fifty thousand dollars a year. Over forty percent of school superintendents receive salary and benefits of two hundred thousand dollars a year or more.
And beyond the issue of spending, there is another key element to this conversation, and that's the conversation about performance. The property tax cap is not just about how much local government spends, but also what you're getting for your money. New York has a long way to go on this score. Simply put we spend the most and we get close to the least. For example, New York ranks number one in education expenditures in the nation, but number forty in graduation rates. So now is a good time to ask your local government about its performance and accountability measures and how it can do better.
You should know that you have another tool in your hands also; streamlining government. A major reason that property taxes in New York are so high is that we have too many local governments. We have more than ten thousand five hundred governments across this state. Ten thousand five hundred local governments. That's wasteful and very, very expensive. Now, however, we have a law that empowers citizens to consolidate their local governments or to reduce costs by sharing services with other local governments. This kind of consolidation can significantly lower property taxes.
The tax cap is already working in communities all across the state. Since it took effect this summer, the cap has stopped automatic tax increases and brought much needed scrutiny to government spending. Of the nearly four hundred municipalities that have proposed their budgets, the vast majority, close to eighty-five percent, have stayed within the cap. Remember, in past years local property taxes increased by an average of six percent. The cap is two percent, and close to eighty five percent of the governments are now following the cap. We are making a difference. At the end of the day though, it is all up to you. It is your money, it is your community, these are your local services. The state is not dictating a solution. I am not saying what the community should do, I am saying that I want you involved, and I want the people to have the power as opposed to the politicians, and I want you to have the facts. Because as I've traveled all across this state, people have said to me they just can't afford their local property taxes any more. And this is a vehicle to make real reform.
If you want to raise taxes, you can raise taxes. If you want to lower taxes, you can lower the taxes. If you want to live within the cap, or be below the cap, it's all your choice; but you decide, the people decide, not the politicians, that's the way it's supposed to be. For this to happen, it is critical that you and your neighbors get involved. That you have the conversation. I urge you to be there when your local government's budget is being debated. Attend the school board meetings. Ask your elected officials about their spending choices, talk to them about the cost of the bureaucracy and inefficiencies, ask them if their community should consider consolidating with other communities or sharing services to find economies of scale.
We have built a website with information that may prove helpful as you join this vital discussion. You can find it all at Citizens Connect, take a look. An informed citizen is an empowered citizen. I am a firm believer in the power of government to improve peoples' lives. I believe government can make a difference. I also believe in a government that is efficient and respects the tax dollar. I believe you can do both. I believe you can have effective government that makes a difference in peoples' lives and a government that is cost effective and respects the tax payer. That's what we're working towards. I believe in a government that works for you. That's what we're doing here in Albany every day, and that's what you should demand from your local government.
Democracy works best when every citizen participates. I know that if New Yorkers work together and reason together we can emerge stronger and create a brighter future for our families. This crisis may have a silver lining, and we can be the better for it. We can make this state live up to its glorious potential. The future is the sum of all of our choices, and I know that New Yorkers will choose wisely. Thank you for listening.