To The Editor:
A 20th anniversary is usually a cause for celebration. But when it comes to New York state’s budget process, I think we can all agree that 20 years of late state budgets is more of a cause for condemnation.
Earlier in the year, I believed we had a real opportunity to break this two-decades-long record of dysfunctional government. Although various aspects of the governor’s proposed 2004–2005 spending plan were immediately met with criticism in January—including his cuts to health care and higher education, his desire to permanently reinstate the state sales tax on clothing and shoes and his woefully inadequate plans for funding public schools—this plan did not seem to stir the same level of opposition from legislators and the public as past Executive Budgets.
However, the major sticking point in this year’s negotiations centers around something of tremendous importance to all of us: the need to make sure that New York City school children are provided with the resources they need to receive the "sound, basic education" they are guaranteed under the state constitution. In last year’s landmark state Court of Appeals decision in the Campaign for Fiscal Equity (CFE) lawsuit, the legislature and governor were ordered to come up with a plan by July 30 of this year to overhaul the state’s inequitable school aid formulas—which now provide $14 billion in public school funding statewide—to make sure that our children receive their fair share. While at least three groups, in addition to Mayor [Michael] Bloomberg, have since presented multi-year, multi-billion dollar proposals for addressing the CFE decision, no agreements have yet been reached.
Like all of you, I am deeply disappointed by this lack of progress. I will add, however, that the Senate Democratic Conference, of which I am a member, has stepped up to the plate to propose an alternative to the governor’s budget plan. Our budget doesn’t spend any more than the governor’s proposal, but makes significant investments in education aid, school construction, day care, and library projects; restores the governor’s cuts to Medicaid; increases funding for New York City transit; aids small businesses, and seeks to launch a new capital construction program to expand affordable housing.
At a time when the state is still facing a budget deficit of around $5 billion, we also recommend ways to help pay for these programs. We suggest expanding New York state’s "bottle bill," which will help to provide a cleaner environment while raising new funds for public programs, postponing the governor’s proposed income tax cut for wealthier New Yorkers, and closing a number of corporate loopholes that enable some companies to avoid paying their fair share of taxes. This latter point should be of particular interest following a recent Congressional General Accounting Office report showing that more than 60 percent of American corporations didn’t pay any income taxes between 1996 and 2000.
I am hopeful that at least some of our priorities will be included in the final state budget, and that serious attempts to put a 2004–2005 spending plan into place will soon kick into high gear. With only about two months left in the "official" 2004 legislative session, there is no time to waste, particularly since there are so many other important issues—including a minimum wage increase, improved mental health insurance coverage, and workers’ compensation reform—that are all deeply deserving of action this year.
State Senator, 12th District
Support RecognitionTo The Editor:
Thank you for writing the excellent news article about the Armenian Genocide of 1915.
My mother was born in Constantinople. She and her family also suffered under Turkish brutality. Then in 1974 my father’s family in Cyprus was affected by the Turkish slaughter.
I humbly request the 200,000 Greeks of Astoria to send letters to President [George W.] Bush, White House, Washington, DC to implore the Congress and Senate to officially recognize the Armenian Genocide of 1915.
Athan John Christodoulou
Decries Bush PoliciesTo The Editor:
Granite cracks over time. Though the [President George W.] Bush dogma is to insist that it makes no errors, the evidence supports a different conclusion. Not being able to confront the realities confirms to many that Bush is either out of touch with the facts, or is simply lying.
Remarkably Bush dependably finds fault with the [then President Bill] Clinton Administration when anything goes awry. The September 11th attacks occurred when Bush was President. Facing re-election after three years of occupying the White House, Bush is still found to be whipping the dogs of the past.
Amazingly good news has Bush trumpeting the successes of his Administration. Mr. Bush demands the spotlight when there are positive developments, but is the first off the ship when it hits a bump. Leadership of the greatest nation in the world requires honesty and far more courage than false vanity.
The international arena is a far more dangerous quagmire as a result of Bush’s policies than it has been in generations. Reliable and constant allies who share our values condemn the American actions in Iraq and Bush’s indifference for world opinion. The vast majority of the world’s population fears and hates the U.S. as never before. This is a new and disturbing stage of insecurity and danger for the nation. Our isolation from the world community assuredly will provide no good as a result.
The heroes of the Bush years are the men and women of our armed forces who have unquestionably obeyed the orders of the commander-in-chief. Their sacrifices far exceed any other consideration. Yet the question remains whether their service is benefiting the nation. A democracy demands that question be examined by all of us. In the end, it is the people who will determine our present and future course of conduct.
Up To No Good
To The Editor:
"Work Of School Funding Panel Just A Start" and "Weprin Most Proud of Council Budget’s Education Proposals" by John Toscano (April 7) both missed part of the story.
New York state already spends over $13 billion per year on behalf of 3 million school-age students. Billions of these dollars go to New York City each year. Contrary to popular liberal mythology, spending more taxpayer-generated dollars doesn’t always solve problems. Expenditures by the NYC Board of Education [Department of Education] have consistently increased well beyond the rate of inflation, year after year and decade after decade. Increasing numbers of teachers are being hired on a temporary basis as provisional. In many cases, they are unable to pass a state certification exam necessary for permanent employment. Incompetent educators are impossible to fire and end up staying on the payroll by being buried at NYC Board of Education headquarters for years. Why are they afraid of periodic re-certification testing? The bureaucracy of this agency uses up substantial funding in overhead, which never benefits students. Cost overruns, corruption and mismanagement by the NYC School Construction Authority continues to burn up hundreds of millions of dollars each year. The school custodial union’s antiquated work rules waste tens of millions of dollars each year. Teachers enjoy benefits such as paid sabbaticals, full summers off and other perks, which parents and taxpayers can only dream about. Charter schools and voucher systems offering another way out are opposed by the United Federation of Teachers, who want to maintain the status quo. In 2003, the UFT was acknowledged as the most powerful lobbyist group in the state, spending more money than any other organization. Parents and taxpayers have no means to compete against this well-financed machine in influencing an Albany legislation.
In the meantime, standards continue to decline, resulting in many high school graduates upon entering the City University of New York needing to repeat many basic English and math classes. Sorry, but just throwing more money at a problem doesn’t always buy a solution! Councilmember David Weprin would do better by leaving one of the many useless and irrelevant city council meetings. Try walking over to the offices of the NYC Board of Education, NYC School Construction Authority, United Federation of Teachers and the NYC School Custodial Union. He should ask all of them for increased accountability and productivity on behalf of students, parents and taxpayers! Then again, Councilman David Weprin may have a conflict of interest based upon campaign contributions he may be receiving from the very same employees and unions the city council should keep an eye on!
Pictures Are SacrilegeTo The Editor:
This is in regard to the pictures taken by Tami Silicio which were published in the Seattle Times and also other pictures in the Daily News, showing rows of flag-draped coffins inside a U.S. Air Force cargo plane waiting to take off from Kuwait International Airport on April 7 en route from the war in Iraq to bases in the States.
The final outcome was that Mrs. Silicio and her husband were fired from their jobs, where their duties included loading coffins on airplanes. Meanwhile the damage was done.
Now let’s understand this, Silicio violated a strict rule, which is the U.S. Defense Department policy barring the photographing of soldiers’ coffins returning home. I had served in the United States Navy during the Vietnam era and if I violated a rule such as this I would have been court martialed, so I think they got off easy.
Even President Bush considers release of photographs of flag-draped military coffins a reminder of the fallen troops’ sacrifice, but believes family privacy should be respected. He is absolutely right on that, furthermore I feel it’s just like going into a funeral parlor and taking pictures of the deceased in the coffin. How macabre is that? Who would do such a thing?
I feel life is sacred and so is death and should be treated as such. We need to allow the families to grieve in their own way, without the media making it harder.
I have a co-worker who saw the paper this morning and looked at the front page and said, "What a disgrace," and I think most Americans feel the same way.
Let’s us therefore salute our brave men and women who are defending our country and in their death, let us respect them as well.
Frederick R. Bedell Jr.