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Campaign for Fiscal Equity

Tue, Jan 22, 2008

A Budget of Pain

Editorial, Times Union

The first glimpses of Gov. Spitzer's proposed state budget are making a lot of New Yorkers wince. For good reason.
According to reports from our Capitol Bureau, one way the governor hopes to close a projected $4.4 billion deficit is to lower the minimum increase in basic, or foundation, aid to 2 percent from 3 percent. Overall, the increase in school aid will be scaled back from an anticipated $1.25 billion to $900 million. And one way he plans to finance his ambitious plan to create a $4 billion endowment for higher education is to get more affluent New Yorkers to start playing Lottery games.

Mr. Spitzer began his first year in office by making good on his promise to change the way school aid is apportioned in New York, and by increasing that aid overall. His commitment to public education throughout the state earned him praise from advocates who had waged a long court battle to force the state to increase the amount of aid it gives to the New York City schools. But that was then. Now, Mr. Spitzer must grapple with a much bleaker economic outlook. Not only is there a multibillion-dollar budget gap, but there are also fears that state tax revenues could significantly decline as the major Wall Street financial firms shed jobs and investments to offset huge losses incurred in the subprime mortgage meltdown.

We can understand Mr. Spitzer's predicament. Revenues will be hard to come by. Nonetheless, cutting back on school aid, even if it is only scaling back a planned increase in that aid, raises questions of priorities. Are there no other alternatives in a budget that may well exceed $125 billion?

Mr. Spitzer has often praised the public schools, but if New York is to live up to its constitutional obligation to provide a sound, basic education to all students, it must provide adequate funds to achieve that goal. The need is even more pressing in an era when many companies base their decisions on whether to stay or locate here largely on the availability of an educated work force.

The governor's plan to lease part of the state Lottery to Wall Street investment firms also raises questions. We have long deplored the reliance on gambling to fund public education. Those who can least afford to gamble often wind up buying most of the chances, lured by slogans like "a dollar and a dream." The governor's plan would increase that reliance if, as expected, the private sector were to pitch the games more aggressively to middle and upper-income players.

Then there's the risk in letting Wall Street have a piece of the action. As the subprime meltdown shows -- again -- Wall Street often goes along for the ride whenever there's a boom or a darling company (remember Enron?), only to bleed cash when the roof caves in. Is this the chance Mr. Spitzer wants to take with the Lottery?

THE ISSUE: The governor plans to scale back school aid increases.

THE STAKES: Hard choices are necessary, but so are the right priorities.


Parents from across the state march on the Capitol in Albany to show support for CFE.
CFE Litigation CFE v. State of New York
In 2006, after 13 years in the Courts, the New York State Court of Appeals affirmed the right of every public school student in New York to the opportunity for a sound basic education and the state’s responsibility to adequately fund this right, but deferred to the Governor and the Legislature to determine the appropriate amount. more >