Foes kick off campaign against Cuomo’s education tax credit
ALBANY — This year’s battle over an education tax credit began in earnest Wednesday as opponents of the measure called on lawmakers to reject the creation of the credit for donations to schools and scholarship funds.
“We believe that it is obscene that at a time when we should be making strong frontline investments in public schools, at a time where we should be making sure our public schools are world class …the Senate and governor are considering implementing a plan that would be a reverse Robin Hood for millionaires and billionaires around the state,” Charles Khan, an organizing director at Strong Economy for All Coalition, said at a rally at the Legislative Office Building.
The controversial education tax credit has failed to make it through the legislative process for several years. Last year the battle became particularly heated after tax credit supporters sent out mailers targeting individual members of the Assembly.
The measure passed the Republican-led Senate last session but failed in the Assembly, whose majority Democrats are backed by teachers unions that vehemently oppose the credit.
The New York State Catholic Conference already has begun pushing for the credit this year. Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Catholic archbishop of New York, told POLITICO New York on the first day of session that he thinks it has a better shot this year after coming so close last year.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo in his 2016-17 executive budget proposed establishing a $150 million credit for donations made to public schools, local education funds, school improvement organizations or private education scholarship organizations. It also includes a refundable credit for teachers who buy instructional supplies.
A bill in the Assembly is similar to Cuomo’s with slight changes such as extending the available scholarship credit to $200 million by year three.
The Senate passed a similar measure in January as one of its first actions this session. The Senate bill has further changes, such as including donations made to charter schools and expanding the pool of available credits, capping it at $150 million for calendar year 2017, $225 million for 2018 and $300 million for 2019 going forward.
Members of several good government, fiscal watchdog and education advocacy groups Wednesday took issue with the bill, saying it benefits mainly rich donors, and violates the separation of church and state.
But their main issue was with funding.
“If we really want to help poor children, we should be taking this $150 million that the governor has allocated for this particular tax credit and put that into the community schools pot,” Ron Deutsch, executive director of the Fiscal Policy Institute, said, referring to schools that provide wrap-around social services. He said the money "would be better served being put into that pot and growing and expanding community schools to really help as many economically disadvantaged students as we can.”
Deborah Cunningham, director of education and research for the New York State Association of Business Officials, said the state should first focus on equitably and fully funding the public schools. “Education tax credits that siphon money and attention from this critical agenda should not be pursued at this time,” she said.
In a news release following the event InvestInEd, a coalition of religious, labor and community groups that support the tax credit, called out the groups.
"Today we heard from several of Albany’s usual suspects who once again trotted out their opposition to the proposed Scholarship Tax Credit,” InvestInEd spokesman Bob Bellafiore said in the release. “This bill will help tens of thousands of children, mostly lower and middle income, receive scholarships. The program will be controlled and highly regulated by the Board of Regents and the state Tax Department. And it’s much cheaper and socially responsible than the long-term costs of trapping poorer children in schools that don’t work for them.”
Education tax credit advocates say it's not about the benefit to the donors, it’s about the scholarships the donations could provide for students, easing financial and tuition pressure on their families. The scholarships also would provide more opportunities, especially for low-income and working-class families.
“These folks also try to say the state can’t send funds to religious schools. First, this bill doesn’t send one nickel a religious school,” Bellafiore said “Second, New York State already sends hundreds of millions in taxpayer dollars to religiously affiliated schools, via a very long-standing program that pays for services mandated by the state.”
The proposal's fate this year remains unclear.
Barbara Bartoletti, legislative director for the League of Women Voters of New York State, said at the news conference that she expects the Senate to include the credit in their budget, and hopes the Assembly does not.
“We call on the Assembly to keep it out of their budget bill and see this thing go down the way it went down last year when saner voices prevailed,” she said.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly attributed the following quote: "If we really want to help poor children, we should be taking this $150 million that the governor has allocated for this particular tax credit and put that into the community schools pot." It was said by Ron Deutsch of the Fiscal Policy Institute.