Pump down the volume, people. There are some things to be excited about, I suppose, especially since it was just revealed today by the Census Bureau that New York state is leading the country in per-pupil spending (more than $18,000, according to 2009 figures) and maybe, just maybe, putting some kind of brake on how much money schools can raise is a first step in climbing down from the unenviable top spot of that position.
Or maybe it’s not. We have become very good in this country at stopgap measures and solutions touted as problem-erasing which are, upon further review, as effective as flinging a buttercup at a charging rhino. Like how, on the federal level, we want to not have a national debt or a budget deficit, but we impale, then cruelly stomp, any politician who even thinks about messing with Medicare, Social Security or defense spending.
I am not trying to knock the cap per se; I am happy, really, for the property owners who may get lower tax bills next year. But let’s be honest — this doesn’t do a damn thing to change the regressive nature of funding schools through a land tax which is the same for the set-for-life set as it is for the senior citizen scraping by on a meager pension and Social Security. Near as I can tell, it doesn’t get school districts off the hook for any of their fixed costs, except for a possibility of some relief on contributions to the state retirement system. So if this is it, the cap ushers in an era of less support schools at a time in history when we really have to bust a move on smartening up our kids.
In fact, if you want to look at it this way, it’s a hell of an un-Democratic thing for a Democratic governor to have done. It smacks of the Reaganistic “starve the beast” theory of killing government by depriving it of the money it needs to breathe. (And hey, if Andrew Cuomo really was the greatest governor in New York history, he would have gotten Empire State millionaires to agree to give a little more.)
Ultimately, there has to be a real, lasting solution to education funding, married with some rational and serious cost-cutting. School employees are going to have to take less in terms of salary increases and pay more for their health insurance and retirement, just like those of us in the private sector do. There needs to be a serious study, as Assemblyman Cahill has proposed, of saving money by consolidating services. There also needs to be a shift, also as Cahill has proposed, from the regressive property tax to a progressive income tax, which levies people according to their ability to pay.
Will any of this happen? It is to be hoped, but it seems there’s not much of a percentage these days for politicians in being rational. All the money’s in pandering to fears and peddling non-solutions as silver bullets.
But Andrew Cuomo has shown an ability to lead which his immediate predecessors, Spitzer and Paterson, lacked. It is to be hoped that he can build on his first successes and get some real, fundamental and lasting change.