Editorial: Albany needs to find a permanent fix to state aid mess

02/09/2011 7:48 PM |

The good thing is it didn’t come as a shock or surprise.

But that’s about the only good thing that can be said about Governor Cuomo’s proposed education budget, which is $1.54 billion below last year’s package and would slash school aid on Long Island by a stinging 11 percent.
Sound familiar? It should. Legislators representing Long Island, New York City and the rest of the state have been pulling hard in a three-way school funding tug of war for decades.

The scenario often went something like this: The governor, whoever holds the title, proposes a slimmed-down state aid package. The Democrat-controlled Assembly and the GOP-dominated Senate, particularly members from Long Island, somehow find a way to increase the size of the pot so each district here can count on getting at least a little bit more than the previous year.

That’s fine, as long as there’s money in the state’s accounts. Of course, that’s not the case this year. Albany is broke, lawmakers are in damage-control mode and it seems the best our legislators can do is lessen, not eliminate, the fiscal pain.

The Great Recession has framed, in stark relief, the awful truth of just how unfortunate it is to exist at the bottom of the public funding food chain.

State government has long depended on an inordinate amount of tax revenue from Wall Street. That’s fine, as long as the markets keep chugging along. But the economic collapse of 2008 sparked an inverted trickle-down effect. The Wall Street-to-Albany cash pipeline went dry. With less money coming in, less can go out. A similar phenomenon has rocked town and county governments, but for the last few years our schools seemed to be doing fine, in relative terms.

That lucky streak has come to an end.

When a local school administrator invokes the Titanic in discussing his 2011-12 budget, you know it’s going to be rough this May when the public votes on school budgets across the state.

For years, there’s been talk in the state capitol chambers of the need to find new ways to fund public education, but it’s always been just talk. We need more than talk now, and fast.