Albany’s “Silly Season” – By George J. Marlin

British journalist G.K. Chesterton described the period when politicians grope to get the attention of constituents who are occupied with important matters (i.e., sending their children back to school, preparing for the holidays) as the “Silly Season.”  And recent events confirm that Albany’s “Silly Season” has commenced.  Here are two examples of their folly:

1.  On September 22, Governor Spitzer revoked Pataki’s executive order requiring New York driver’s license applicants to present a valid Social Security number.  Under the Spitzer order, up to 1 million immigrants will not have to prove their status to receive a license.

 

The Spitzer policy is in direct conflict with the Federal Real I.D. Law which requires states to issue licenses only to people with valid Social Security numbers.

 

In December 2009, citizens in states not in compliance with that Federal statute will no longer be able to present their driver’s license as valid I.D. before proceeding through airport security screening.  Under this scenario, an Amway salesman flying from LaGuardia to Syracuse or a student flying home to Buffalo for the Christmas holidays, will have to present a U.S. passport before they can take a seat on JetBlue.  How silly is that?

 

Apparently the children of privilege who occupy the governor’s chambers are unaware that most New Yorkers don’t possess a U.S. passport.  Unlike Spitzer and his rich friends, they have no need for acquiring one because they can’t afford an overseas “grand tour.”  Foreign travel for the average New Yorker is taking a subway from Flushing’s “Little Chinatown” to Arthur Avenue’s “Little Italy.”

 

Governor Spitzer’s misguided policy will cause havoc at New York’s airports and will punish millions of taxpayers who travel by air to make a living or to visit their loved ones.

 

2.  Nassau County’s State Senator Dean Skelos proposed last week that newly-hired public school teachers receive their salaries and benefits directly from the state.  This approach, Skelos argues, would reduce Long Island’s school property taxes by $3 billion.  Skelos also promises that under his plan the state would not interfere with the local school district’s hiring practices.

 

Newsday reports that if the Skelos plan is adopted “school districts would be required to disclose cost-savings and lower taxes proportionately.  Residents would still vote on school budgets but contracts for teacher benefits would be negotiated regionally by state officials and union leaders.”

 

Senator Skelos doesn’t understand that state money dedicated to pay teachers is not manna from heaven – it is tax dollars.  The Skelos plan only shifts the tax burden, it doesn’t eliminate it.  While local school taxes might decline, state income tax rates could be increased.

 

Senator Skelos is also naïve if he believes the state would fund salaries without conditions.  It is inconceivable that the teachers union would permit passage of the Skelos bill without their interests protected.

 

Additionally, why should anyone believe that state officials negotiating regional union contracts wouldn’t give away the store?  If history is a guide, one need only look to Albany’s handling of the health care union.  To placate this union, billions in unfunded state Medicaid mandates have been imposed on local municipalities.

 

If Senator Skelos is serious about property tax relief, he should chuck his silly proposal and demand that spending caps requirements be included in the School Tax Relief Program (STAR).

 

The original 1997 STAR proposal called for the state to increase aid to school districts that agreed to put caps on their property tax levies.  Participating school boards “could not increase property taxes by more than the inflation rate or 4 percent, whichever is lower.  School boards could raise taxes by more than that only if two-thirds of the voters in their district supported them.”

 

The final version of the STAR program approved by Skelos and his Albany confreres dropped the Caps.  STAR monies appeared in the budget as unrestricted school aid; and as a result, STAR put no restraints on the local bureaucrats who joined the program.  Residents received a benefit from the state, but local taxes continued to go up.  The enacted STAR program was not a tax-cutting program but a redistribution plan.  The state subsidizes homeowners with a yearly relief check, while school districts continue to spend without restraint.

 

School District taxpayers don’t need new layers of state bureaucracy imposed on them.  What they do need is real tax reform and spending restraints.  This could easily occur if Senator Skelos has the courage to lead the charge to restore language in STAR that makes it a real tax relief program.

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