NEW YORK — Boasting that he was delivering tax cuts for working people and increased funding for schools, Republican Gov. George Pataki delivered his final executive budget Jan. 18 in Albany. Almost immediately afterwards, however, the budget proposal was condemned, especially by education-rights activists.

Critics point out that even though the state has a surplus of over $2 billion, the governor plans to squander much of that in tax cuts for businesses, while leaving schoolchildren illegally shortchanged and raising tuition at public colleges. Also, the vast majority of tax cuts are directed at the wealthy.

“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 in published reports that the vast majority of the governor’s tax cuts would go to people in the highest income brackets.

Pataki’s 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.

The $500 credit is said to be used as a potential voucher for private schools. Critics charge that this is a further attack on public education. Aside from the fact that $500 is not nearly enough to enroll a child in private school, critics charge that this is a “foot in the door” to funding private schools at the expense of public education. Also, the state’s attorney general, Elliot Spitzer, has said that it probably is unconstitutional, 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, he did not so much as mention that, according to a Supreme Court judgment brought by the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, funding of NYC schools is so low that it needs to be brought up by billions of dollars per year for students to receive a “sound basic education.” The day the governor gave the address, the state was 536 days past the deadline to provide that funding, making Pataki’s budget a violation of the law.

“He’s taking a $2 billion surplus that could fully fund the court-ordered CFE remedy for poor and minority schoolchildren this year and is using it to further his own political ambitions,” said Michael A Rebell, a CFE lawyer. “It’s an outrage.”

Rebell added that Pataki is “making a mockery of our entire judicial and legislative processes.”

While working families may see some tax benefits, such as a fuel rebate, the governor’s budget includes a $1.1 billion tax cut, more than half of the state’s budget surplus, for corporations.

Pataki plans to make up for lost tax revenue through funds generated by state-sponsored gambling, more speeding tickets and, particularly harmful to many working students, 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. In addition, the new plan would allow for SUNY/CUNY tuition to be raised automatically each year.

“Gov. Pataki is leaving Albany in the same way that he came in, forcing students to pay more and cutting back on financial aid,” said Miriam Kramer, the New York Public Interest Research Group’s higher education coordinator in a statement. “The governor’s higher education budget proposal will have the biggest impact on the state’s poorest students.”

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.

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