Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders said Tuesday they have an agreement on a long sought property tax cap, yet significant elements that the leaders once said were deal breakers remain undecided.
"There's a long way to go before a final bill is passed," Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos said after a news conference announcing an agreement, with 11 days left in the scheduled legislative session.
Skelos, for example, said as recently as a week ago that he wouldn't accept a "sunset" provision for the property tax cap to expire, requiring another vote by the Legislature to extend it. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver's proposal released Tuesday, on which Cuomo said the agreement is based, requires a sunset. Skelos now says he hasn't seen Silver's sunset provision and is unsure how long a duration he would accept in the bill.
As for Silver, he told reporters Tuesday morning that the tax cap bill is "inextricably linked" to his priority of strengthening and extending a rent control law for New York City residents that will expire in June. But Skelos continues to say he wants only an extension of the law that holds down rents for 1 million residents, without changes.
Asked repeatedly by reporters whether there is a deal on a tax cap, Skelos answered: "What I'm saying is there will be a property tax cap enacted into law, and rent regulations will be extended ... we're celebrating the fact that there will be property tax cap in New York state."
The announcement was made in an elaborate news conference Tuesday and the terms are still subject to more closed-door negotiation. Skelos said he may even propose additions to the tax cap bill, which he said is 95 percent of the Cuomo bill the Senate passed in January.
"We're not announcing an agreement on rent regulation. We are announcing an agreement on a property tax cap that will be enacted this session on the terms that are in the Assembly's bill," Cuomo said. "Obviously we have to complete the process and there won't be any bill signed or passed until we have a final agreement and the final agreement will have rent regulation and property tax cap."
Months ago, Cuomo insisted he wouldn't "link" bills in the tradition of Albany horse trading late in the session and once said he wouldn't allow his tax cap bill to be temporary. On Tuesday, Cuomo told reporters the bills were evaluated separately, not together, and he doesn't consider a law that expires after about five years or so to be temporary if the Legislature extends it. The rent control law that keeps rents under market value to protect the middle class, for example, has been renewed repeatedly since just after World War II.
Silver's proposal to cap the growth in some of the nation's highest property taxes would:
— Limit local property tax growth to 2 percent a year or the rate of inflation, whichever is less.
— Add some exceptions to Cuomo's proposal including high costs in pensions, court judgments, or an increase in the tax base.
— Allow a local community to override the tax cap with a 60 percent vote of the public.
— Carry over from year to year any tax levy below a 2 percent increase. Cuomo said that's an incentive to keep schools and governments from always spending the full 2 percent increase. There is no safeguard against election year budgeting, in which budgets are tighter in election years followed by larger increases.