Pataki’s Vetoes Set Stage For Showdown
By HENRY J. STERN
Gov. Georage Pataki cut an interesting swath with 202 separate vetoes of spending items and tax cuts approved by both houses of the state Legislature. The vetoes extended to tax cuts as well as new spending. The Legislature is likely to override most or all of them but the governor may maintain that the Court of Appeals will give him final authority in the matter.
He did not, for example, veto the new state borrowing for school construction, or the authority for the city to borrow $9.4 billion to build schools, which would be likely targets for a governor ostensibly concerned with the increasing public debt. That decision may be a nod to the Court as well as to construction unions, indicating that money designated for education takes precedence over fiscal responsibility.
Predictably, the education budget was denounced by Richard Iannuzzi, president of the New York State United Teachers, nominal parent of the UFT, who called the vetoes “cruel and unusual.” He went on: “These are the desperate acts of an administration yearning for relevance.” Iannuzzi added: “If you’re a homeowner with two school-aged children, the governor just took $1,000 out of your pocket.” This unusual display of concern for the pockets of taxpayers should ingratiate him with Majority Leader Joseph Bruno and Speaker Sheldon Silver, who intend to macerate the governor’s vetoes when they and their charges return from Spring Break.
There is some oddity in Gov. Pataki, with the cornstalks of Iowa on his mind and a lick of hay on his brow, wearing the cloak of fiscal restraint. True, it was the theme of his first term (1995-98), but as his second term waned and he sought a third, he doffed that cloak to lavish billions of dollars received through one-shot revenue (conversion of an HMO to private ownership) to raises for Dennis Rivera’s Hospital Workers Union. Rivera returned the kindness by endorsing Pataki for re-election in 2002 over Democrat Carl McCall, the natural object of the union leader’s bounty.
The governor’s vetoes are thoroughly justified in terms of preventing the state from sliding further into its economic abyss. They do not, however, offer much in the way of pulling state government out of the trap into which it has fallen through years of excessive spending, particularly its near total loss of control over Medicaid costs, which now exceeds $46 billion, one half of which comes from New York State and county budgets. Medicaid imposes an enormous tax burden on New York’s 62 counties, whose share of the costs is nearly equal to what Albany pays. In some counties, the cost of Medicaid alone exceeds the property tax levy. Whether or not upstate is Appalachia, it is certainly not Shangri-La.
State finances are, however, in better shape than those of the federal government, where there is no longer any pretense of budget balancing. Under the Bush II administration, the national debt, which was about $5.6 trillion when he took office in January 2001, has now risen 53 percent to $8,411,858,774,331.60, according to the national debt clock. You can find the clock on what appears to be the eastern wall of 110 West 44th Street, the building which houses the mid-Manhattan office of the Internal Revenue Service. In fact, the clock is on the western wall of 1133 Avenue of the Americas, adjacent to the IRS. Although the figures appear to change constantly, the change is always in one direction, up.
On the other hand, the city budget, under Mayor Bloomberg, is increasing at a slower pace. Most of the increase is due to the so-called mandatory items; Medicaid, pensions and debt service. Billions more go to entitlement programs, where eligibility standards and payment requirements are set in large part by the federal government and the state, with the assistance of the courts, who find no problem in imposing additional unfunded mandates on local government.
Nonetheless, the city has made valiant efforts to reduce spending, which have been recognized by bond-rating agencies. The recent sharp run-up in real estate prices, and the number of transactions resulting from the boom has led to an unprecedented budget surplus of $4.5 billion, and the mayor has wisely set aside $2 billion to pay the anticipated rising costs of health care, a decision in which the City Council will, hopefully, concur.
The three levels of government operate with different standards of fiscal responsibility. To some extent, this is the result of circumstances (wars, floods, etc.) but it is also the result of the decisions of the men and women who prepare and approve the budgets. Unfortunately, there is a strong impulse to place fiscal burdens on the next generation, trading long-term stability for temporary relief, and pushing problems into the next administration.
To remedy that situation will require stronger measures than now comprise our legal reservoir.
The best way to reform state government is by the Legislature placing on the ballot in 2006 a proposal for a Constitutional Convention for New York State. The last time this question was on the ballot was in 1997, when it was defeated by a well-financed special interests campaign who believed, with some justification, that their power and privileges might be adversely affected by a new state Constitution. Under existing law, the matter will not come on the ballot again until 2017, 20 years after the last referendum. The Legislature can save 11 years by acting now.
This is a question on which the four gubernatorial candidates should be heard. We should ask them for their opinion. The issue would give an indication of what influence, if any, the next governor will have on his own political party. That would depend to some extent on the new governor’s political ability. He will be facing some very clever rascals, their political pockets lined by lobbyists more numerous than locusts. Perhaps the legislative lions will be so distressed by the Court of Appeals rulings on the balance of power that they will turn to a convention which they feel they can dominate (its delegates being elected under gerrymandered senate district lines).
We are not at the end of the beginning of the budget conflict, much less at the beginning of the end, but we are no longer at the beginning of the beginning (Churchill, 1942).
Measuring Student Success
NYC Chancellor Joel Klein
JOEL KLEIN NYC Schools Chancellor
The New York Police Department initiated a new program called COMPSTAT in the 1990s, harnessing technology to provide an unprecedented picture of the city. Finally, officials could see which precincts were fighting crime most effectively, which types of crime were on the rise and which were falling. The result is well-known: crime has sunk to increasingly low levels and New York is now America’s safest big city.
Today, our goal is to improve student achievement in New York City Public Schools. The Data Management System and Progress Reports I announced last week will be a major step toward accomplishing that goal. Our new accountability systems will allow us to take a clear, honest look at what’s really happening inside our classrooms—who’s teaching well, who’s learning well, and who needs help.
Traditionally, we’ve measured success by comparing the current year’s test scores with the previous year’s—setting the scores of this year’s fourth-graders, for example, against those of last year’s fourth-graders. That’s like comparing apples and oranges.
This coming year, we’ll finally start comparing apples to apples. We’ll hold onto the scores from this year and see whether students have improved over time—measuring, for example, how this year’s fourth graders perform next year when they are in fifth grade. This is the kind of meaningful analysis that will tell us if students are really learning, and if schools are really teaching.
We will also follow student achievement more precisely.
Currently we evaluate students according to four broad levels: 1, 2, 3, and 4. But there’s a whole lot of difference within the levels that we ignore: There’s a bigger jump from low to high-Level 2 than from high-Level 2 to low-Level 3. Yet we tend to disregard the first jump and base “success” almost exclusively on the second. Many children’s scores are edging ahead or slipping behind, and we’re missing it. Starting next year, we will measure all movement in achievement levels.
Knowing more about student performance won’t mean very much unless we communicate our knowledge to parents. That’s why we have designed new Progress Reports. The Progress Reports will provide a comprehensive summary of student performance at each of our 1,400 schools. Its categories, including student performance and progress, as well as the results of new parent, teacher, and student surveys, will factor into a single letter grade (A to F) for overall school performance. Students receive grades for the work they do, and now their schools will as well. Each school will also receive a Quality Score based on thorough onsite Quality Reviews by experienced educators.
For the first time, we will all know if a school’s results are good, average, or awful. Some people might not like this notion. They are afraid of what will happen once parents know which schools earn an A and which get an F. I’m not. To raise student achievement, we must be honest about how we’re doing. This should have happened long ago. I am eager to make it happen now.
I look forward to your support and feedback as we move forward. Please feel free to contact me at ChildrenFirst@nycboe.net. Together, we can ensure that all of our students at all of our schools receive the education they deserve.