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NYSUT files lawsuit over property tax cap

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Buffalo: NYSUT files lawsuit over property tax cap
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The largest teachers union in the state, NYSUT, is challenging Governor Cuomo's cap on property tax increases. The union says it's unconstitutional to require a 60 percent vote to override the cap.

Last year, the Niagara Wheatfield School District, in financial trouble, asked taxpayers to approve a nearly ten-percent increase on the school tax levy.

"I voted for it because I don't want to see kids lose out on the stuff that goes along with being in school," said parent Barb Gotta.

But because the increase exceeded the state's tax cap, it needed a supermajority to be passed.

"Having to be part of the 60 percent, I just crossed my fingers and hoped it would pass," Gotta said.

That budget didn't even receive a simple majority of the votes. However, the President of the Niagara-Wheatfield Teacher's association believes the 60 percent requirement was part of the reason.

"I think there could've been a bigger push," Kevin Rustowicz said. "It's very difficult to get 60 percent."

The state's biggest teachers union, NYSUT, is challenging the constitutionality of the tax cap.

"It should be 50 percent plus one," said NYSUT Regional Staff Director Mike Deely. "That's the way democracy works. Majority rules, not supermajority," he said.

The union says the law jeopardizes every student's right to have an equal opportunity to succeed.

"Locally we saw last year many districts cut severely," Deely said. "They cut teaching staff. They raised class sizes. They cut academic programs, AP courses," he said.

But the CEO of a Western New York group that advocates for less spending and lower taxes says the cap is ultimately a step toward fixing the school system.

"We're not going to be able to provide them that education if we keep seeing things like this that just wants to bust the cap and add massive amounts of spending," said Brian Sampson, Unshackle Upstate's CEO.

Niagara Wheatfield eventually approved a much smaller budget increase and cut 40 teachers as well as modified sports.

"The bottom line is do parents want programming for their kids," Rustowicz said.

Teachers there say Niagara Wheatfield is facing a deficit again this year and the continued tax cap will only hinder education.

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