Don’t be fooled by Cuomo’s Smart Schools – By George J. Marlin

The following appears in the October 10-16, 2014 issue of the Long Island Business News:

It’s very unusual for proponents of an important statewide ballot referendum to be silent during an election campaign season, but that’s precisely the case this year concerning the so-called “Smart Schools Bond Act of 2014 Proposal No. 3.”

Not familiar with it? I’m not surprised. In his January State of the State address, to entice New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and his extreme leftist allies to ditch their plan to increase NYC’s income tax to pay for universal pre-K, Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed the bond act, but little has been said about it since.

To bring you up to speed, here’s the official ballot text that will appear in your voting booth on Nov. 4:

The Smart Schools Act of 2014, as set forth in Section One of Part B of Chapter 56 of the laws of 2014, authorizes the sale of state bonds of up to two billion ($2,000,000,000) to provide access to classroom technology and high-speed internet connectivity to equalize opportunities for children to learn, to add classroom space, to expand high-quality pre-kindergarten programs, to replace classroom trailers with permanent instructional space and to install high-tech smart security features in schools. Shall the Smart Schools Bond Act of 2014 be approved? Yes or No.

Why has there been so little talk about this bond referendum? Because supporters are afraid if voters focus on it, a majority will realize it’s a $2 billion dollar boondoggle and vote it down.

This proposal doesn’t make much sense. Taxpayers are being asked to pay principal and interest on debt well beyond the life of iPads, laptops and other computer and technology equipment. E.J. McMahon, president of the fiscal-watchdog Empire Center, agrees: “Cuomo seems to rely on an arbitrary number and would pay for technology that will be outdated and useless before the state’s indebtedness is even paid off.”

Comparing the issuance of such long-term debt to borrowing for a vacation, Citizen’s Budget Commission Vice President Elizabeth Lynam said, “It’s OK to borrow money to purchase a house, and you pay that over 30 years because the house is going to last 30 years. It’s not OK to borrow typically in your personal life for a vacation, because that’s a short-term benefit and you’re going to pay it back for many years to come.”

The technology and construction programs included in the Smart School Act are generally funded by the state’s operating budget via annual school aid. By not using this normal process, the Empire Center has observed “the state will have to grow its debt and incur interest payments that make the expenditures more costly.”

Also, the funding of projects with bond proceeds frees up dollars in the state budget to fund more goodies on the never-ending wish lists of the state-wide teachers unions.

While the national cost of education averages about $10,000 per student annually, spending in New York averages $20,000 per student. On Long Island, it’s projected to hit $26,000 per student this academic year. For all that spending, the results are not impressive; New York student proficiency levels are below the national average, and it’s unlikely spending another $2 billion on dubious projects will improve student performance.

Back in the early 1800s, New York State went on a spending spree. But the 1837 depression brought it to a halt, as the state found itself on the brink of insolvency when canals and railroads built with bonded debt defaulted. To address this crisis, a constitutional convention was convened in 1846, and new measures were adopted permitting debt to be incurred only if approval was obtained in a voter referendum.

In modern times, New Yorkers have used this constitutional power wisely, rejecting most bond acts. This year, state voters have another opportunity to do just that – and to show Cuomo they’re too smart to fall for the Smart Act.

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