Voters approve nearly all school budgets within tax cap


School budget votes proposing an average increase in per pupil spending of 4.2 percent were overwhelmingly approved in state-wide voting held yesterday, with all but five of 685 individual budget votes succeeding.

New York’s tax cap law did flex its muscle on Long Island, however, where three of five school budgets exceeding their statutorily-imposed local tax levy limit failed to muster the 60 percent super-majority support required for passage.

The tax cap limits the annual growth of the tax levy imposed by school districts to 2 percent or the rate of inflation. A voting majority is sufficient for the adoption of school budgets that do not exceed the cap.

Two-thirds of the budgets voted on yesterday proposed to spend at, near or above the cap level—evidence that school budgets are being devised with an eye on the caps. Twenty districts around the state proposed spending above the tax cap. And 17 of the 20 garnered the required supermajority support required for passage—most with ease.

On Long Island, however, where school districts proposed to spend nearly $33,000 per pupil on average—the highest in the state—three cap-busting spending plans went down to defeat because they won majority support, but not the required 60 percent. These were the district budgets for Wantagh (receiving 51-percent support), Three Village (58 percent) and Bridgehampton (59.3 percent). The latter budget fell a mere two votes shy, despite proposing an 8.9 percent increase in the tax levy.

State-wide, only two budgets that stayed within the caps were defeated: Northport, on Long Island; and Carmel, in the Hudson Valley.

The five New York school districts whose budgets were defeated yesterday can hold a re-vote in June on the same proposal or a modified one. If those votes fail, the district’s tax levy will remain at the 2019-20 level.

News reports indicate that voter turnout yesterday reverted back to the low levels common in pre-pandemic years, after spiking last year due to a special effort to encourage absentee voting.

Even as those who did show up at the polls were casting votes mainly in support of increased school spending, the Census Bureau released new data highlighting the state’s highest in the nation average per pupil expenditure on elementary and secondary education.

And New York school districts will have more to spend in the coming year than the budgets adopted yesterday indicate—some much more—since billions of dollars in pandemic relief funds are being allocated to New York schools on a formula basis. The schools have until July 1st to release plans for spending that new federal largesse; those plans will not be subject to a voter referendum, however.

Peter Warren is the Director of Research at the Empire Center.

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