What Governor Andrew Cuomo Did Not Propose
Those close to Governor Cuomo have called his budget revolutionary. But it is far from the revolution someone like myself might have suggested. Under his proposal, instead of paying higher taxes for the same public services, New Yorkers will pay the same taxes – highest in the nation – for diminished public services. Those who have made out on the deal might not grab as much extra. But they are certainly not giving anything back. Particularly Generation Greed. Let’s provide some examples.
Governor Cuomo did not propose a huge increase in what New York’s public employees contribute to their pensions, to offset all those retroactive pension deals enacted over the past 15 years. He did not propose that retired public employees, who benefitted from those deals, contribute more to their health insurance, in lieu of the pension contributions they are no longer around to make. The state constitution says that existing pensions cannot be reduced or impaired. But far from impairing or reducing pensions, higher employee contributions might be the one way to save them.
Governor Cuomo did not propose that the retired be required to pay equal New York State and New York City personal income taxes on equal incomes, compared with those who are working, instead of having retired public employees pay nothing and private sector retirees pay far less. He thus neither proposed that Generation Greed start contributing to the debts they ran up, nor that those debts be defaulted on, so younger generations of New York workers would not have to choose between being victims of Generation Greed or fleeing the state.
Nor did he propose cutting taxes and fees (such as transit fares and tolls) to the just level required to pay for public services actually received in the coming year. Leaving the cost of debts run up for anything but completely new infrastructure and facilities installed over the past 30 years, retiree health care that was not pre-funded, and pension contributions in excess of employer contributions in the private sector, to be funded by an additional separate surcharge that everyone cold see. Called the Generation Greed surcharge. So people could see right in their income tax bill, property tax bill, Metrocard purchase or toll exactly what they were paying for which they would receive nothing in return, whether or not they read the paper
That, by the way, could be considered a pro-public employee policy, because public employees and their unions are going to be absolutely hated as rising debt and pension costs from the past drive an ever-growing wedge between what people are forced to pay in taxes and what they receive in public services. With a Generation Greed surcharge those younger and future employees could say “don’t blame me, because I’m not getting it.”
Governor Cuomo chose not to place a cap on public school spending per child relative to the national average, penalizing those who went over the average with lower STAR or school aid. I would set such a cap at one-third higher than the national average, with an adjustment for the higher cost of living downstate. Instead school districts will all be allowed to increase their property taxes at the same rate, whether they had been efficient or wasteful previously. The Governor chose not to repeal STAR and roll it into a school formula that does not give more to those who spend the most, rewarding excess.
Nor did the Governor propose revoking the authority of school districts to levy property taxes, shifting that authority to the counties who would distribute it equally on a per student basis. This would not only be more equitable, but would also make someone – the county executives and legislators – accountable for the overall level of property taxes. And it would shift the competition among school districts from who could spend the most to who could get the most value for what they spend and induce the most parent support.
In general, the Governor chose to take last year’s spending as a baseline, and not consider how much spending there was when deciding what to cut. State agencies that had been cut again and again, including SUNY and CUNY, were cut as much or more than school aid and Medicaid.
And because the City of New York has far fewer employees outside of the public school category than it used to, and has cut the size of its labor force over 20 years, it was decided city residents don’t need any municipal aid. And because local governments in the rest of the state, including those where the average person is wealthier than those in New York City, have put so many people on the payroll, it was decided that their municipal aid could not be cut. While eliminating municipal age to New York City, the Governor chose to not eliminate municipal aid to localities that are far richer than New York City. Garden City and Bronxville will get almost as much state aid as last year. Why? New York City doesn't need the aid, the proposal says, because it has more taxes.
Speaking of New York City, the Governor chose not to have the state fully fund the non-federal cost of Medicaid and welfare expenditures that are beyond question, to avoid an unfair excess burden on those who live in the same county as a concentration of the state’s poor, such as New York City. And it chose not to have local governments fund the full non-federal share of Medicaid and welfare expenditures that were not beyond question, such as 24 hour home care, expensive health care services for those who could not prove New York residency for the past two years, and welfare for those not participating in workfare, to discourage excess spending in areas where Medicaid is thought of as an economic development program and/or political patronage mill. Such as New York City.
The Governor has not required public employee pensions to be fully funded based on a reasonable expected rate of return, and has not objected to Comptroller DiNapoli’s plan to have local governments outside New York City not make their required pension contributions – with the goal of forcing New York City to do it for them later.
Nor did he demand that ongoing maintenance and normal replacement of the state’s transportation infrastructure be fully funded with ongoing revenues, preventing their ongoing financial and physical decay. In these two cases, pensions and infrastructure, the Governor has failed to avoid off the books borrowing while demanding no additional on the books borrowing.
In addition to what the Governor chose not to do, there is what he proposed not to inform people of – including people who can’t be bothered to read the newspaper.
Something like the “Generation Greed” surcharge discussed above would certainly inform even those too lazy to read the newspaper how much of their taxes were taken from the past, and provide nothing in the present. That might make robbing a future most of our state legislators, and the people they care about, do not expect to part of, something other than the easiest best a solution in every budget.
The Governor chose not to propose informing, in a separate mailing, taxpayers of the state just how much their local schools cost. Ie on one page in 18 point type “Your school district spent X per child in fiscal 2008, when the national average was Y according to Census Bureau data, and its spending per child has increased by Z from then until last year. Last year your school district spent A for every 20 children. Of this amount, spending on teacher salaries, pensions and benefits totaled B for every child and C for every 20 children in the most recent year.”
That would sure raise some questions among taxpayers and parents when the school districts claim they can no longer educate the state’s children because of how little funding they got. And the state’s younger teachers, when they compared the total teacher cost per child with their class size and salaries.
Similarly the Governor chose not to inform New York’s citizens, perhaps on the back side of that same one-page mailing, how much per beneficiary New York State spends on Medicaid for beneficiaries in different age groups, compared with the national average for those age groups.
Needless to say the special interests Governor Cuomo decries would not look forward to having every state taxpayer get those mailings every year. They much prefer, whenever I reference the data on a blog (other than my own where a spreadsheet is attached), to simply assert that it isn’t true and I am making it up.
And the Governor did not propose to compile a database of every retroactive pension enhancement proposed in the state legislature over the past 15 years, sorted by the legislators who proposed and co-sponsored it and, if it were voted on, who voted for or against it. Every single one of them. If I could find out how culpable my State Senator or Assembly member was, I would certainly look it up.
If Andrew Cuomo is the thug some people claim (which may be exactly what we need), I would think he would at least compile such a database and threaten to put it on the internet. I, of course, would have long ago compiled it and just put it up. Tell the truth and let the chips fall – as long as it happens before Generation Greed can finish pillaging the state and slink away.
You are going to hear a lot of complaining about what Andrew Cuomo proposed, from the usual suspects. But if you are planning to live in this state in 10 or 20 years, and aren’t looking to suck out as much as you can while contributing as little as possible in return, the real problem is what he didn’t propose. The usual suspects should stop complaining.
Post new comment