NEW YORK — Boasting that he was delivering tax cuts for working people and increased funding for schools, Republican Gov. George Pataki submitted his final executive budget Jan. 18 in Albany. The proposal was immediately condemned, especially by education-rights activists.
Critics pointed out that the governor plans to squander most of the state’s over $2 billion surplus on tax cuts for businesses, while leaving schoolchildren shortchanged and raising tuition at public colleges.
“This is a good budget — unless you’re planning on staying in New York, which the governor is clearly looking past,” said State Assembly leader Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan), alluding to Pataki’s rumored presidential ambitions. Silver said that the vast majority of the governor’s tax cuts would go to people in the highest income brackets.
Pataki has received the most flak for his K-12 funding plans. In his address, he bragged that he would open more charter schools — in itself a problem, many say — as well as offer a $500 credit to students in the poorest neighborhoods.
Critics charged that the $500 credit — a potential voucher for private schools — is a further attack on public education. While $500 is not nearly enough to enroll a child in private school, the credit is a foot in the door to funding private schools at the expense of public education, they said.
The credit is probably unconstitutional, said the state’s attorney general, Elliot Spitzer, given that some of that money would most likely end up funding religious schools.
Pataki also touted an increase of about $635 million for public schools. However, this figure is far less than the billions of dollars per year education budget increase ordered by the state’s Supreme Court in order for students to receive a “sound basic education.” Pataki’s budget, presented 536 days past the court’s deadline, is a violation of the law, said Michael A. Rebell, an attorney for the Campaign for Fiscal Equity. CFE brought the suit, directed at NYC schools, which resulted in the Court’s ruling.
Pataki is “making a mockery of our entire judicial and legislative processes,” Rebell added.
While working families may see some tax benefits, such as a fuel rebate, Pataki plans to make up for lost tax revenue through funds generated by state-sponsored gambling, more speeding tickets and an increase in tuition at State University of New York and City University of New York colleges. SUNY tuition is budgeted to increase by $500, and CUNY by $300. The new plan would allow for SUNY/CUNY tuition to be raised automatically each year.
“The governor’s higher education budget proposal will have the biggest impact on the state’s poorest students,” said a statement from Miriam Kramer, the New York Public Interest Research Group’s higher education coordinator.
According to NYPIRG, another Pataki plan — to raise the number of credits a college student must take to be considered full time for financial aid — would make it more difficult for students to attend school while working. For many students, this is the only way they can afford college, even with financial aid.