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Which people first?

May 19, 2011 - John Stack
Gov Cuomo was here in town yesterday with his ‘”People First Campaign”. I have to agree with some of his legislative agenda items – as I’ve said before I am very pro gay marriage, and Cuomo summed it up as many of us feel ‘"Five to 10 years from now, we'll look back and say 'we can't believe the state didn't allow gay people to marry just because they're gay,' ". I also agree with him in trying to pass real ethics reform in the NYS Senate and Assembly. The 2 staid government entities claim they can police themselves, as evidenced by the lack of work on the Ethics committee. Its like a town claiming they have no drug problem, because no one has been arrested for drugs. Its not that there isn’t a drug problem, just that the town hasn’t arrested anyone for the offense.

I though, take umbrage with his comment ‘municipalities and school districts within the state have caused property taxes to soar across the state.’ He goes on to talk about how NY has the highest property tax problem in the nation, and how we spend more on pupil education than anyone in the nation but we are still 34th blah blah blah. “Excuse me, what’s that Mr Clements? 3 kinds of lies? Lies, damn lies and statistics? Thanks, I’ll remember that.” Has anyone figured out how our fine state would fare if we took out the millions of kids in underperforming schools in NYC? Think we would move up a slot or 30? Check out the majority of our local schools. Put our standardized tests up against any in the nation and we stack up pretty well. Solve the NYC school problem, don’t blame our schools that are doing a great job educating our kids.

I’m Surprised he didn’t bring up the ‘Massachusettes miracle’ and their 2% cap. Yeah, they went from ‘Taxachussettes to Tax-a Heaven’ and schools scores increased. But, of course, this is a lie. The State just started picking up significantly more and more of the tax burden. What has NY done? For the last 40 years, New York has pushed more and more of its state costs onto the school districts. And the plan isn’t to enact a cap and increase aid, but to enact a cap and decrease aid! But, we can only assume we will get the same results.

But my biggest gripe is that Cuomo blames only the municipalities and school districts. Who is he leaving out? OH! THE STATE! Lets see. Maybe the State was harmless. Cut back aid, increase mandates, and clobber municipalities with onerous pension obligations. Hmm. Nope the State wasnot liable for any of it. All the ‘tax cap’ politicians love to say ‘but inflation averaged only 2.9 percent and local governments have went up 5,10 20 percent (pick your number). But, inflation is based upon a large number of factors that are used as a proxy for the whole country. Does the bundle of goods for a school change at the same rate as the Consumer Price Index? I assume not. For one, oil is a huge expenditure for schools. To warm the water, the classrooms and to power the buses. Oil prices most likely figure much more prominently in a school than other areas. How about insurance? With a 2.9% inflation rate, when was the last time health insurance rates increased as little as 2.9%? Health insurance makes up a significant portion of a school budget, and it has averaged WAY higher than the rate for inflation. How about pension costs. Remember when municipal entities paid nothing for pensions during Wall Street’s boom? Nice little ‘gift’ back then. But guess what? Piper’s here! He needs to get paid! How about real pension reform? Yes, Cuomo is looking at Tier 6 and that is good. How about making some type of pension program where town/villages/counties/schools can have some idea of their future pension obligations? Not a roll of the dice based upon Wall Street returns and however the people in power choose to allocate that change. How about a straight up 3% of salary for everyone in state/municipal service? The rate could be adjusted every 10 years so that taxing jurisdictions don’t have to make drastic cuts out of nowhere because of situations way out of their control.

Andrew was right. We still have a whole lot to do. But 2% tax caps and blaming localities for the state’s bungling is now what needs to get done.


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