New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo won a major boost this week after suburban and upstate voters approved 99 percent of their school budgets, most of which adhered to the Democratic governor's new property tax cap.
In Tuesday voting, virtually all the state's school and library budgets were approved, the New York State School Board Association said. Nearly 93 percent adhered to the Cuomo tax cap.
Cuomo, 54, attributed part of his 2010 landslide win over Republican Carl Paladino to his advocacy of a 2.5 percent property tax cap, which would serve as a brake on taxes.
New York residents are among the highest-taxed in the U.S. Suburban property taxes account for between 65 percent and 70 percent of overall property taxes, with the remainder for counties, towns, villages and special districts for parks, sewers, fire and water.
Under the property tax cap, which sailed through the Republican-controlled State Senate and Democratic-controlled State Assembly last year, all governments starting in 2012 are required to submit budgets that adhere to either a 2.5 percent cap or the rate of inflation, whichever is lower.
The school board association said 48 of 675 school districts wanted to exceed the cap. In that case, at least a 60 percent majority was required for approval. Twenty nine of those budgets passed.
Those school districts, as well as many other agencies such as the Town of North Hempstead, have said they can't abide by the cap because of large, mandated costs, mainly pensions for retired workers.
Cuomo, in emails and statements last week, took credit for the general adherence by the school districts to the cap and said it was a means to ensure the schools would maintain high quality while keeping taxes under control.
The approvals also suggest Cuomo's popularity remains high, as he faces 2012 legislative elections in which Democrats will try to regain control of the senate, which they lost in 2010.
As well, Cuomo, who ran his father's winning campaigns for governor starting in 1982, recalls the drubbing the elder Cuomo took in 1994, when voters turned down school budgets partly due to frustration over taxes.
Mario Cuomo lost the Governor's Mansion to Republican George E. Pataki, a state senator from Putnam County.
New Yorkers also elected trustees to nonsalaried seats on local boards of education, which prepare the budgets. In Syosset, in Nassau County, Joshua Lafazan, 18, was elected after a campaign where the $541,000 annual salary of the superintendent of schools was an issue.
In upstate Belleville, William Allen, also 18, was elected to the board for the Belleville Henderson Central School District.
The elections of teenagers to school boards is not new: 40 years ago, state Comptroller Thomas P. Napoli, a Democrat now of Great Neck, was elected at 18 to the Mineola school board, which included the schools of his hometown of Albertson, in Nassau County.
David Zielenziger is a veteran editor and journalist who has written for newspapers including the Baltimore Sun, Asian Wall Street Journal and EETimes, as well as for...