Impact of tax cap: School voter turnout plummets

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School budgets are being passed on the first try more than ever in New York. But there’s another trend: turnout at the polls is plunging, Gannett’s Albany Bureau reported today.

cuomotaxcap1Turnout for school budget votes in May has dropped 34 percent since 2010 and 19 percent since the state enacted a property tax cap in 2011, a review by the state Association of School Business Officials shows.

The tax cap has forced schools to keep property taxes relatively low each year, schools officials said. As a result, fewer voters are protesting, leading to lower turnout, the officials surmised.

The total turnout dropped from 981,681 in 2010 to 647,335 this year, the group said.

In the vote May 20, a record 98 percent of nearly 700 school budgets passed. Additionally this year, homeowners will get a rebate check if their districts stay within the tax cap.

“I think that voters recognize with the pressure that the cap creates on school districts, the vast majority of schools are going to come in under the cap,” said David Albert, a spokesman for the state School Boards Association. “So our experience has been that when voters are happy with the tax rate, you didn’t see a large turnout.”

Schools statewide this year proposed an average tax levy increase of 1.98 percent, the lowest in five years, according to the School Boards Association. Spending is expected to increase 2.6 percent compared with 2.9 percent in the current school year, which ends June 30.

Budgets failed in 12 schools districts last month. A second vote is June 17.

Districts can seek a 60 percent vote at the polls to override the tax cap. The tax cap this year, because of a lower inflation rate, is 1.46 percent. It’s the first year the cap has been lower than 2 percent. Each district’s cap is a different percentage, based on a number of factors, such as the growth in pension costs.

Overall, 23 districts sought an override this year. Of the 12 budgets that failed, nine were unsuccessful in seeking overrides — including West Irondequoit in Monroe County.

For the second vote, districts face a tough choice. If they seek an override again and fail, the law prohibits them from enacting any tax levy increase for the fiscal year.

So for the upcoming second vote, five districts are again seeking overrides — four with the same levy increase and one with a lesser increase.

2014 Budget Results Report by jspector

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  1. Voter turnout should be presented as a percentage of enrolled voters. According to data from the state Board of Elections, from April 2010 to April 2014, between 6.2M and 6.3M voters were registered outside of the Big 5 schools. Given that, voter turnout for school budget votes only declined from about 15% in 2010 to about 10% in 2014, roughly 1 percentage point per year. While there may have been a 34% decline in the total number of votes cast between 2010 and 2014, you also need to consider that this change is really just 334,346 votes out of over 6 million potential votes. That equates to only about 5% of eligible voters not voting. It may be noteworthy that there has been a consistent decline in voter turnout, but I would hesitate to say voter turnout on school budgets is plummeting.