Perdido 03

Perdido 03

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Journal News: Cuomo's Education Tax Credit A "Giveaway" To His Donors


Supporters of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's education tax credit pitch the bill as being all about "parental choice." That's even in the name of the legislation. Yes, parents should be able to choose to put their kid in a private school – but the taxpayer shouldn't have to foot the bill.

The Parental Choice in Education Act does just that, though in a circuitous way. It's pitched as a simple tax break for donors, talked up as costing no one a thing. In fact, the state would set aside $150 million in state funds, and double that amount within a few years, to provide tax credits that will surely end up aiding corporations and other wealthy donors that give to private schools.

For those who support private and parochial education systems, with a true spirit of generosity, we say good for them. But tax revenue shouldn't be diverted away from state coffers – which is what tax credits end up doing – so more money makes its way to private schools.

One controversial part of the bill includes access to tax credits –75 percent of any gift up to $1 million – for donors. The pool of money for the tax credits is limited; the dollars would be doled out on a first-come, first-served basis. Large corporations with fancy accounting firms can quickly grab the tax credits, and mom-and-pop donors would likely be left wanting.

Especially for high-income corporations, a tax credit is exponentially more valuable than the current tax deductions available for charitable giving to nonprofit institutions, including private or parochial schools.

There's a big difference between a tax deduction and a tax credit: A tax deduction reduces your taxable income, so your taxes are based on a lower amount; a tax credit comes off your tax liability, so it's cut off the bottom line of what you owe in taxes. Or as JTA, touting the benefits to Jewish day schools, put it: "a tax credit is the equivalent of cash."

The NY Times didn't like the tax credit either:

Gov. Andrew Cuomo can talk passionately about improving New York’s “failing public schools,” but when he made that point at churches and a yeshiva last Sunday it was, at best, disingenuous. He was there to sell his bill that would help private and parochial schools, by offering big tax credits to their donors. This energetic effort for an expensive and possibly unconstitutional bill that Mr. Cuomo has named the Parental Choice in Education Act could cost the state more than $150 million a year. That money should be used to help almost 2.7 million public school students in the state, not given to wealthy donors subsidizing mainly private or religious schools.

Elizabeth Lynam, a budget expert for New York’s Citizens Budget Commission, called the bill “an extremely lucrative benefit likely to serve the state’s wealthiest taxpayers.” Many of the people who would get the credit already support their favorite private or parochial schools, she said. A tax credit to encourage them isn’t needed.

The bill would allow a 75 percent credit on donations of up to $1 million for each individual or corporation contributing to funds for students in private or parochial schools. That is a huge change from existing law, which offers far less lucrative tax deductions. Typically, for the wealthiest taxpayers, the maximum state tax deduction on $1 million is about $22,000. The Cuomo plan would cap the number of tax credits it gives out and create a complicated system of deadlines and requirements before donors could get the full benefits. Those difficulties add to the suspicion that only someone with a fancy accountant could easily take advantage of this tax bonus.

The $150 million pool includes millions of dollars in tax credits for donations that could provide scholarships to private or parochial students from families with incomes of up to $300,000 a year, which hardly targets the neediest students. And, in an attempt to attract support from the Assembly speaker ,Carl Heastie, and his Democratic majority, Mr. Cuomo has proposed $70 million for a tuition credit of $500 per child sent to nonpublic schools for families with incomes of up to $60,000. There would also be $10 million a year for public-school teachers, including those in charter schools, who could get up to $200 each in tax relief when they buy classroom supplies.

With this misguided bill, Mr. Cuomo may have found plenty of support from religious leaders and private school donors. But his efforts seems jarring, given his record of seeking more accountability in schools. The state has little say in private and parochial schools over testing, the teaching of basic subjects or other data collection required for assessing a good education.

Moreover, taxpayer support for religious education has been banned by the state Constitution for over a century. Exceptions were made long ago for universal needs like transportation and special education, but there are questions as to whether the kind of public support for religious schools the bill proposes would be prohibited.

Cuomo's eagerness to starve public schools and pay off his wealthy donors and charter school buddies knows no bounds.

The Journal News sees it the same way - this is nothing more than Cuomo paying back his donors and punishing his enemies:

Regardless of Cuomo's best efforts to push "options" to public education and weaken his newest political nemesis, public-school teachers, the state's Constitutional mandate continues to be the financial support of a public school system, with state funding of specific services provided to private schools. Not the other way around.

Senate Republicans are all in on the Cuomo tax giveaway, so about the only thing that's holding the line here is Assembly Dems - but they're under a heavy assault from Cuomo and the hedge fundies:

Advocates for the credit have targeted recalcitrant lawmakers in a series of brutal mailers and robocalls aimed at Assemblywoman Patricia Fahy, D-Albany.

Click the link to Capitol Confidential to hear the robocall.

What are the chances the heavy hearts in the Assembly hold the line on Cuomo's tax giveaway to his donors with the attacks they're taking?

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