Tax the rich, protect kids is their program

It was a rollicking good time at the Washington Avenue Armory in Albany yesterday, at least if you w

It was a rollicking good time at the Washington Avenue Armory in Albany yesterday, at least if you were of the view that more money needs to be spent on education and the way to get more money is to take it from rich people.

“Protect Kids, Not Millionaires” was the operative slogan as some 1,200 people convened on the armory from all over the state but especially from New York City to pump themselves up with speeches and chants before heading down to the Capitol for a bit of lobbying.

It was printed on T-shirts and placards, it was shouted from the floor, it was the bedrock principle, you might say. (To view a photo gallery, click HERE.)

“If the millionaires’ tax stayed in place, that one thing would basically solve the bulk of this crisis,” Mark Mishler, a member of the Albany contingent, told me, referring to the tax surcharge that was imposed on high earners in 2009 and is scheduled to expire at the end of this year. Gov. Cuomo wants to let it expire, even though that will cost the state $1 billion in the coming fiscal year and $4 billion in the following year, according to official estimates.

Those amounts wouldn’t fill the $10 billion budget hole that the state faces, but they would certainly fill a big part of it. They would make up for the $1.4 billion that Cuomo wants to cut from education funding.

So that’s the answer: Tax the rich, as more than one placard urged. Indeed, it’s a slogan that we are accustomed to seeing at rallies supporting public-employee unions. It’s the obvious solution to fiscal problems. Take money from the people who have most. Those aren’t all millionaires, by any means. The “millionaires’ tax” starts with people who earn $200,000, but “millionaire” works better as a slogan. You don’t want to print up 1,200 T-shirts saying, “Protect Kids, Not People Who Earn $200,000 and Up.”

The gathering yesterday was organized and sponsored by a number of familiar organizations, including the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, which successfully sued the state for more money on behalf of New York City schools; and the Alliance for Quality Education, a statewide organization of parents and teachers that has been campaiging since 2000 for more money for schools.

More money for schools — what an errand! The one area of public spending that relentlessly goes up more than the rate of inflation, to the point where we have created a privileged class of superintendents, principals and especially teachers, generously paid, lavishly pensioned, and immune from the pressures of any marketplace.

Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy earlier this year testified at a legislative hearing that a simple wage freeze for teachers — not a cut — would save $1.1 billion this year, but I looked and looked for placards saying, “Freeze Teacher Pay” without seeing any.

This was very much a tax-more, spend-more group, almost a caricature of what conservatives always call tax-and-spend liberals. If any right-wing media team had wanted damning footage for use in a documentary, they would have done very well to infiltrate yesterday’s rally.

For most of the ralliers it appeared to be a fun day off from whatever their regular routine might have been. A free bus ride up the Thruway, a free plastic-wrapped sandwich on arrival, a free T-shirt, and the chance to holler on the behalf of children.

I enjoyed it myself.

Categories: Opinion

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