The burden of paying for education has shifted increasingly from state to local property taxpayers, creating funding problems for the schools and an unfair distribution of the cost of education, according to state Sen. Cecilia Tkaczyk, speaking at a budget forum she held at the senior center Sunday, March 23.
Property taxes cover about 52 percent of the cost of education, while the state’s contribution has dropped to just under 34 percent, with the remaining cost covered by federal aid and assorted other income, according to a chart Tkaczyk presented. At one time, the state and local share were about equal, she said.
About 50 people attended the forum. Following Tkaczyk’s presentation, they raised questions about the governor’s proposed budget and the Legislature’s reaction, the level of taxation and the prospects of some of the initiatives Tkaczyk proposed.
The largest portion of the budget is devoted to Medicaid with 31 percent of the budget, Tkaczyk said. School aid places second, with 17 percent. The Legislature is finishing up its review of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s $137 billion budget, with a vote set for next month.
Aid to localities in the budget was cut through the “gap elimination adjustment” (GEA), a program passed by the Legislature in 2010 to reduce and eventually eliminate the state’s deficit.
“We had a $10 billion deficit – a hole in our budget,” Tkaczyk said. “It helped fill that hole. Today, schools are at the 2008-2009 funding level. I’m looking for an increase in state aid.”
Tkaczyk, a former school board president, said education was a key to her decision to run in 2012. “I was quite distressed that my rural school was getting decimated with state aid cuts. We did not have the ability to raise local property taxes to make up the difference, and I saw our only avenue was cutting our programs.”
There are different ways of funding schools, Tkaczyk said. When it comes from an income tax, it can be distributed equitably between the districts. Under the existing system, rural property owners are paying more in taxes than those in more densely populated parts of the state. “It’s way too much,” she said. “But nobody is saying that in the Legislature except me.”
Paul Jameson disagreed with a shift to a different form of tax to fund schools, noting that taxpayers would be paying out of a different pocket, but they would still be paying too much.
“I’m retiring this month with 31 years of service to this state and this county, and I’m not going to be able to afford to stay here much longer with the tax burden,” he said.
Tkaczyk replied: “Rural and small city school districts, which I represent, have a disproportionate burden of school taxes going on the backs of property owners. What I’m saying is you can’t reduce that burden if you don’t get more state aid coming from the state. You have the Town of Saugerties. When I say we need more state aid, I’m not talking about the Town of Saugerties state aid, I’m talking about the State of New York state aid. You have more money coming from other areas to support your school district.”
“It’s just coming out of another pocket,” Jameson said.
Several in the audience pointed out that income tax would draw on a bigger pool of taxpayers. Jameson asserted that “it doesn’t matter.”
A statewide tax would bring in money for schools from everyone, Tkaczyk said. This could be distributed more fairly.