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Michael Miller

Viewpoint

By Michael Miller
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Problems Solved

1. What’s the most troubling part of last week’s sudden tax deal in Albany? Is it the total secrecy and record speed in which it was adopted, or the near-universal mislabeling of the episode in the daily media as “higher taxes for the wealthy,” “effective bipartisan leadership,” and everything else for which Superman has fought?

2. I think the worst part is, once again, everyone gets to declare that the problems are solved. Last summer, we were all commanded to cheer the budget deal that already has a $3.5 billion hole, and counting.

3. At midnight on January 1, income over $2,000,000 will be taxed at 8.82 percent instead of 8.97 percent. Those with taxable incomes between $300,000 and $1,900,000 will actually receive a 23.6 perent tax cut, which Governor Cuomo called a “middle-class” tax cut. If your income is less than $300,000, this will likely mean an extra couple of bucks a week to you, which is nice, but this is hardly a Robin Hood moment.

4. The Albany Times-Union broke the story that during the 28 minutes legislators had to review the 33 pages of fine-print legislation, Governor Cuomo called the Assembly Parlor where Republicans were holding their conference. He demanded a unanimous vote in favor of the bill, and he would personally campaign in the districts of anyone voting no. Presumably, other calls were made.

5. Governor Spitzer made threats, but didn’t appear to know how to really follow through, so it wasn’t really effective. Governor Cuomo doesn’t have that problem. And with a snap of somebody’s fingers, those mysterious “education reform” committees can spend millions in advertising against anyone. No fingerprints.

6. We are told that the new tax rates will bring in an “extra” $1.9 billion. Actually, keeping the 2011 tax codes in place would have brought in $2.1 billion more than that.

7. I can’t even call this “business as usual,” because the Cone of Silence placed over this one is possibly unprecedented.

8. On the same day newspapers were doing the Charleston over the tax deal, the superintendent of the Highlands School District (near West Point) laid out a preliminary 2012-2013 budget plan. It would sack a quarter of the faculty, eliminate Kindergarten, increase elementary class sizes from 23 to 26 per class to 30 per class, eliminate all athletics, all clubs, Spanish and French and even the band and chorus. Their best hope is finding a neighboring flush district, which is willing to merge, but so far there are none (flush or willing).

9. The Governor crowed that lower tax rates puts money back into the economy. Don’t layoffs and spending cuts suck money out of it?

10. A recent Journal News survey of the 54 school districts in our sister suburbs of Westchester, Rockland and Putnam Counties found that 148 out of the 456 school buildings received overall “unsatisfactory” ratings in their five-year engineering reviews. Another 100 districts failed in at least one systems category. The cost of repairs would exceed $1 billion over the next five years.

11. I emphasize schools because they are so identified with Long Island, but lower-income Seniors know the $2.4 billion in EPIC cuts mean many are picking out the medications they can’t renew. Etcetera.

12. Nassau County has more of the kinds of people and professionals who have tended to do well during this Systemic Contraction. It skews the statistics. We’re just getting our first tastes.

13. Stretching a 19th-century school finance system over the 20th-century was bad enough. Now we have income stagnation and property value deflation and the local tax system is mostly make believe. So it makes some sense that our “solutions” are also make believe. We have been utterly and totally failed by our political and media leaders.

14. Or maybe not. For some, this is the plan. This is the way into the suburbs for some of those mysterious corporations and political committees promoting charter schools, mass continuous testing, union busting and other changes. In a few years, we’ll have school districts leaving the keys to the middle school in the mailbox.

15. In a crisis, things you never expected can be for sale.

 

Michael Miller is a freelance writer, designer and strategic consultant who has worked in state and local government. Email: millercolumn@optimum.net