Friday, April 14, 2006

In Search Of The Holy Grail

School Tax Forum Draws Crowd, Debate

Nassau County Civic Association Reports On April 6th Melville Meeting

This meeting was held in partnership with LIFER (Long Islanders for Educational Reform. The meeting was moderated by Peter Kohler of Channel 12 News.

The featured speakers were State Senator John J. Flanagan (R), Assemblymembers Charles Lavine (D) & Marc Alessi (D), Business Leaders Bruce Bent & Chris Murray (Nassau Chamber of Commerce) and civic leaders Pat Byrne (Nesconset-Sachem Civic Association), Laurie Pendelakis (Manhasset Civic Association), and Frank Russo (Port Washington Educational Assembly). County Executive Steve Levy (D) also appeared at the forum and spoke briefly at the end.

Senator John Flanagan discussed his efforts to secure more state funding for Long Island schools and acknowledged the burden of high taxes. He discussed the Medicaid savings to local governments due to the state's agreement to pick up a larger share of Medicaid costs. Senator Flanagan represents 7th District in Smithtown.

Assemblyman Charles Lavine discussed his efforts to secure additional state funding for Long Island School Districts. He then discussed what he viewed as decreasing federal aid and the effort to look for other ways to fund schools. He then asked the audience to vote in favor of their local school budget. Assemblyman Lavine, who represents the 13th AD, defeated incumbent David Sidikman in 2004 as a part of Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi's "Fix Albany" campaign.

Assemblyman Marc Alessi also discussed the agreement for more state aid to Long Island Districts. He then discussed his experience with the state Comptroller's office and the need for reform. After he spoke, he endorsed our efforts to require governmental entities to post their line item budgets.

Businessman Bruce Bent discussed the need for the state to decrease spending and reduce taxes. He indicated that the problem was so severe that he was considering moving his corporation to North Carolina and provided some numbers to illustrate the savings should he move. He then forcefully criticized the legislature for high taxes and ridiculed a plan to fund school taxes by a proposed local income tax which would replace property taxes. He made it clear that their is no other revenue stream to get the money and that the "someone else" is taxpayers.

Chris Murray of the Nassau Chamber of Commerce discussed the escalating cost of doing business in Nassau county due to school taxes. He noted that while businesses generally share 20% of the local school tax burden, they have no say in how the money is spent. He advised that audience that the Chamber of Commerce is a willing partner with taxpayers in their quest to reduce the burden of school taxes.

Pat Byrne discussed the need for school employees to share more of their benefits. He discussed the increasing costs of medical benefits and the increased longevity of retirees which are driving up school taxes.

Laurie Pendelakis discussed her career as a school teacher and administrator for 30 years while pointing flaws in our educational system. She addressed the problem of tenure as districts cannot fire poor teachers and why the system fosters medicoracy by giving both good & incompetent teachers the same raises. She discussed the fact that while teachers in a particular school district may receive a 3% raise, they may receive a 4% step increase with a total of 14 possible step increases with varying gradations A, B, C, D. She disagreed with Assemblyman Lavine regarding federal spending on education and made it clear that increased spending does not necessarily mean higher test scores. She then cited explicit examples and called for more accountability.

Frank Russo addressed the need for reform. He criticized the requirement that allows school districts two budget votes when the voters vote down a school budget and called for a change in state law that would allow one budget vote. He addressed austerity budgets which he felt still allow sufficient budgetary increases and should no longer be referred to as austerity budgets. He then discussed changing the day of voting for school board members (excluding school budgets) from May to November on separate voting machines. He also called for reform of the Wicks law that requires different parts of capital improvements be bid separately instead of using one contractor.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy (D) praised the audience for their edurance during a period of great privation and agreed that school taxes, and taxes in general, were too high. He then discussed his effort on a particular issue to streamline a particular department when he was accused of being against nurses. He encouraged the audience not to give up or be intimidated and asked for their help to stand behind those elected officials who stand up for the taxpayers.
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Click HERE to read Newsday report, Turning The Wheels Of Education
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New York State has the 4th highest income tax burden in the nation. Add in the property tax, and New Yorkers have the highest tax burden of any state.

As Bruce Bent considers a move to North Carolina, so to do many Long Islanders give thought to an exodus from skyrocketing taxes, unaffordable housing costs, and a declining quality of life.

Lots of talk. A good thing, as the debate must continue. Let's get the information, the ideas, and the incentives for change out in the public eye, and then, let's insist that our elected officials -- and especially, our State Legislators, who command the Holy Grail of taxation -- act in the taxpayers' best interests.

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