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Judge dismisses teachers union lawsuit against New York state's property tax cap

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ALBANY, New York — A judge has dismissed a legal challenge to New York's property tax cap from the state's largest teachers union in a decision that Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Thursday was a victory for taxpayers.

In the decision signed Tuesday, state Supreme Court Justice Patrick McGrath rejected arguments from the New York State United Teachers that the cap is unconstitutional and unfair to poorer districts. But his ruling allows the union to amend its lawsuit, and the union said it will likely continue its legal fight.

The 2011 tax cap generally restricts school districts and local governments from increasing tax levies by more than 2 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is less. The cap may be exceeded only with the consent of 60 percent of local voters.

This year, lawmakers amended the law to create a so-called tax freeze program that provides rebates to taxpayers to offset modest tax increases by school districts and local governments — as long as the increase is below the cap.

Both measures were intended to address the state's notoriously high property taxes, but the teachers union argued they reduced school districts' local control and hit poorer school districts especially hard.

McGrath, however, noted that the cap can be overridden by a supermajority of voters. "The vote itself connotes local control," he wrote.

Cuomo, a Democrat, had sought the tax cap, and on Thursday, spokesman Richard Azzopardi said the cap has "reined in out-of-control property tax increases" and is a key part of efforts "to restore fiscal sanity to this state."

The ruling can be appealed, though the union could instead amend its lawsuit to challenge the new tax freeze. A statement from the union indicated it is "very likely" to do so.

"NYSUT believes strongly that the tax cap undemocratically deprives taxpayers of their constitutional right to determine local school funding levels, while exacerbating existing funding inequities that harm the state's neediest and most vulnerable students," the union said.

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