Monday, February 13, 2006

The "Fiscal Danger Zone" ~ Taxpayers Beware!

Increased State Aid + Increased School Spending = Increased Property Taxes

In the latest installment of Rand-om Thoughts, George Rand takes a look at the last of the Pataki budgets, and its impact on our schools and our taxes.

The budget presented by Gov. George Pataki last month is his swan-song budget, his last before he moves on to what some predict will be a higher elected office. The governor's record breaking $110.7 billion proposed budget increases spending by 4.1 percent over last year.

No effort is made in the new budget to cut the deficit or reduce the state's $49.4 billion debt which has been called a "fiscal danger zone." In fact, the budget adds $1.5 billion to the debt load, already near the highest in the nation, second only to New Jersey.

Under the proposed budget, public schools would receive $634 million more in state aid, the biggest hike in school aid ever proposed by the governor. In his recent Newsday column, Raymond Keating noted that Gov. Pataki fuels runaway education spending by "hurling record amounts of state taxpayer dollars at public schools. These do nothing to reduce property taxes. Instead, pubic school spending simply mounts ever higher."

Gov. Pataki suggested a $600 million STAR-Plus program that would give a rebate of up to $400 to homeowners if their school districts adopt a spending cap of 4 percent of their budget or 120 percent of the Consumer Price Index.

Don't expect much from that idea; based on school budgets submitted last year, only eight of the 124 school budgets submitted last year on Long Island would fall into the above category. Besides, this is an election year for the entire Legislature and capping school spending is a third-rail issue in politics. Our Albany lawmakers won't go near it.

The STAR (School Tax Relief) program is great for legislators since they can all claim credit for it during election years, but STAR has actually masked the real problem: Long Island's bloated public school budgets have been soaring at four times the inflation rate, driven by skyrocketing teachers' salaries and the cost of their benefits. The Franklin Square school district is projecting a budget increase of 8.6 percent for the coming school year. That's on top of a similar surge last year. How long do they think they could keep this up before homeowners throw in the towel and real estate prices begin to plummet?

Over the past five years, spending by the West Hempstead school district rose by $12 million while the cost of teachers' benefits nearly doubled.

One teacher who coaches sports and supervises kids in the cafeteria has an annual paycheck of $122,700 for less than 10 months of work plus fringe benefits that could be the envy of every private sector employee.

Does this make sense to our legislators or to anyone else?

George Rand
The writer is a resident of Franklin Square.
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George Rand postulates on school spending, property taxes, and the state of education on our island. What's your opinion? The Community Alliance would like to know.

Coming up tomorrow. A teacher's point of view straight from the horse's mouth.

Coming soon: SCHOOL TAX REFORM FORUM. Thursday, April 6, 2006, 7:30 PM to 9:30 PM at the Melville Hilton (Route 110). Elected officials and community leaders will examine the issues and discuss practical solutions. MARK YOUR CALENDARS. Details to follow. SEE Long Islanders For Educational Reform (LIFER).

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