NYSUT Insists The Pain Is Real

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s accusation this morning that school districts and their allies are playing politics with kids by using the threat of teacher layoffs to try to scare lawmakers – and the public – into opposing the governor’s education funding cuts hasn’t stopped them from doing…well…just that.

NYSUT sent a letter this month to all 211 legislators warning that Cuomo’s proposed cuts are so large that to approve them would “send our schools into reverse gear, resulting in devastation to public schools and the state’s working families.”

The statewide teachers union has tallied projected reductions from 232 districts that have crafted their budgets so far and determined they collectively plan to eliminate 13,560 positions – mostly through layoffs.

The union projects there will be another 5,000 jobs lost when the outstanding 475 to 500 districts complete their spending plans.

Both the Senate and Assembly have proposed restoring some of Cuomo’s $1.5 billion worth of education aid cuts in their respective one-house budgets. But NYSUT is looking for a lot more than that – including restoring the state subsidy to SUNY hospitals, extending the millionaire’s tax, restoring cuts to SUNY and CUNY schools and rejecting the tax cap.

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Cuomo Cites DiNapoli In Education Reform Push

Governor Andrew Cuomo is still on the education reform warpath. Speaking at the capitol earlier today, he called on the system to “Reduce the waste. Reduce the fraud. Reduce the abuse.”

Now, he is using Comptroller DiNapoli’s report on school reserve funds as more ammunition for his argument that school districts can find the 2.7% in cuts through being more efficient.

“Today’s report from the Comptroller’s Office finds even more evidence to support the education budget I proposed. The report says all but roughly 100 of the State’s 696 districts have enough reserves to cover the proposed reduction for this year,” Cuomo said in a statement.

“That’s only reserves. This does not include any renegotiation of health benefits or salaries and it does not include rooting out waste or finding greater efficiencies. The oft-repeated scare tactic from various interest groups that teachers must be fired simply is not so. And what’s worse, it uses students as pawns in a political game.”

DiNapoli’s report also warns that twice as many schools would be at risk of depleting their reserve funds next year if districts don’t cut spending, or increase revenue.

Cuomo: Rent Control And Tax Cap ‘Connected’ (Updated)

Back in January, Gov. Andrew Cuomo shot down Speaker Sheldon Silver’s call for linking a property tax cap to rent regulation.

As you’ll no doubt recall, the governor even went so far as to call the idea of linking different bills “a mistake.”

Apparently, the governor has had a change of heart since then. Today, he appeared to open the door to the idea of linkage. While making the point that he’d like the two issues to get resolved in the budget, Cuomo said the two are “connected.”

“For example, the rent issue and the property tax cap; my position is, we’d like to see them done in the budget,” Cuomo said.

“Now you could say they are not really budget issues, property tax cap more so, but they are going on at the same time. I think they are relevant, I think they are connected, I’d like to see them done in the budget. If they are not done in the budget, can you do them after the budget. Certainly you could.”

Cuomo spokesman Josh Vlasto clarified the comments afterwards. “The governor was not linking them to each other but expressing his preference to see them done in the budget,” Vlasto said.

(Liz B. notes: Technically speaking, the definition of “connect” is “combine, link.” Just sayin’…)

In an interview with CapTon last week, Speaker Silver reiterated his belief that rent regulation and a property tax cap should be done together, because they both deal with housing.

UPDATE: There are statements now in response to Cuomo’s comments from the Real Rent Reform Now campaign and Sen. Adriano Espaillat. Both appear after the jump.

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AQE, Students To Cuomo: Two Can Play Political Game

The Alliance for Quality Education is firing back at Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who this morning accused school districts of playing politics when they say his proposed funding cuts would force teachers to lose their jobs, hurting kids in the process.

“Governor Cuomo is in denial when he says he can cut $1.5 billion from schools without hurting kids and the people of New York know it,” said AQE Executive Director Billy Easton.

“The Governor says people who support quality public schools are playing politics, meanwhile he is robo calling voters homes and there is a committee of millionaires doing direct mail to force through school cuts and finance tax cuts for the wealthiest New Yorkers.”

“Exactly who is playing politics? Local schools are slashing programs and preparing pink slips for teachers—it’s in the headlines of every paper across the state. The simple truth is Governor Cuomo’s budget will hurt kids and help millionaires.”

Meanwhile, AQE has released the finalists in its “Dear Governor Cuomo” video contest. Students from all over the state offered submissions that illustrate the impact they think the governor’s $1.5 billion worth of education aid cuts will have on their schools if approved by the Legislature.

Some of the videos are pretty hard-hitting. One example appears below. The other can be viewed here.

Cuomo: School Districts Playing A ‘Game’

Gov. Andrew Cuomo had some strong words this morning for school districts that are crying poor and insisting his proposed education funding cuts will force them to fire teachers and hurt kids.

Flanked by some rather uncomfortable looking legislative leaders, Cuomo insisted that his two-year education and health care funding plan is crucial, explaining:

“If we didn’t do that, first of all, the day after we pass this budget we’d have a $15 billion deficit next year, we’d be right back in the hole because these outrageous, unsustainable rates of increase must stop.”

While Cuomo reportedly is – or was? – open to entertaining the restoration of education aid proposed by both the Senate and Assembly in their respective one-house budgets (recall that just yesterday he insisted there’s “flexibility” in his executive budget proposal), he basically accused districts that say they can’t afford to cut back of playing politics with kids.

“Manage the school system. Reduce the waste. Reduce the fraud. Reduce the abuse,” said the governor, noting the average district would see a 2.7 percent aid reduction in his budget plan.

“…I was the attorney general for four years. I investigated school districts…I know there’s waste and abuse in school districts, and I know there’s 2.7 percent! They’d have to say: We’re perfectly managed. We are the Swiss watch of organizations. You can’t find 2.7 percent waste or body fat in this organization? No. It’s a threat. It’s a game.”

Look for the rather amusing moment at the end of this clip where Cuomo, after stressing that the “day where government can just throw money at the problem, and raise more taxes…are over” makes a joke that elicits the one nod of consent from the heretofore grim looking Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.

“Because you keep raising taxes on New Yorkers, we would be here alone in this room,” Cuomo says. “Wouldn’t be so bad if we were here and some of the reporters weren’t. They will be an exodous, and that’s what has to stop.”

Goodbye, June O’Neill

Veteran New York Democratic operative/activist June O’Neill is stepping entirely off the political stage, giving up all her remaining duties in both the state and local organizations she once headed, The Watertown Times reports.

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According to the paper, O’Neill – pictured her with her state chair replacement, Jay Jacobs – is leaving her position as state Executive Committee chairwoman and also from her post as vice chair of the St. Lawrence Democratic Party. More from the story:

“The move will come as a surprise to no one; Mrs. O’Neill, a Morley resident, is open about her desire to retire and spend more time with her family.”

“…There’s no word yet on who will replace her at the state party, but the rumor mill has also swirled about the potential departure of Jay Jacobs, Mrs. O’Neill’s counterpart at the party.”

O’Neill once worked for Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s father, former Gov. Mario Cuomo. Given her history with the Cuomo family, there was some speculation very early on that O’Neill might be brought back to re-take the reins from Jacobs, who was seen as a David Paterson loyalist, particularly after Tom Suozzi’s surprise loss to Republican Ed Mangano in the 2009 Nassau County executive race.

O’Neill was tapped by former Gov. Eliot Spitzer as part of an upstate-downstate team to head the state party. Her downstate counterpart, Dave Pollak, was forced out shortly after Paterson replaced Spitzer three years ago today.

Jacobs was tapped by Paterson to replace O’Neill, who moved down to head the executive committee. Instead of ousting Jacobs, Cuomo chose to supplement him with an on-again/off-again loyalist, Charlie King, as party executive director – a post the former LG and AG contender took on during the 2010 campaign.

Jacobs has been diligently trying to pay down the state party’s debt and also acting in conjuction with King as an attack dog, lambasting Republicans at all levels of government as the administration’s surrogate.

de Blasio’s Shout-Out To Buffalo

NYC Public Advocate Bill de Blasio took to Twitter this morning to capitalize on counter Mayor Bloomberg’s verbal slight to Buffalo, expressing his love and support for the Queen City.

De Blasio isn’t eyeing a statewide run – at least not to my knowledge. But he is considering a mayoral bid in 2013.

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The $600 Million Man

ICYMI: Donald Trump told ABC News’ Ashleigh Banfield in an interview on “Good Morning America” that he’s prepared to spend as much as $600 million of his own cash on a presidential bid in 2012 – assuming he runs and, as he put it, “assuming I’m doing well.”

Trump said he thinks it would cost him less than any other candidate “by hundreds of millions of dollars” to mount a credible campaign for the White House. He already has high name recognition, so that wouldn’t be a problem.

He predicted it would cost between $500 million and $600 million to run, “if you go all the way.” And he insisted he’s good for that – and more, if necessary.

“I’d put up a lot,” The Donald said. “If I didn’t get people helping me, I’d put up all of it…I have much more than that (to spare).”

“That’s one of the nice things. I mean, part of the beauty of me is that I’m very rich. So, if I need $600 million I can put up $600 million myself. That’s a huge advantage – I must tell you – that’s a huge advantage over the other candidates.”

Watch the full interview here.

DiNapoli: Most Schools Have Enough Reserve Cash

Comptroller Tom DiNapoli is in Syracuse today, unveiling a new report about schools, and the amount of reserve funds they have.

His findings are not shocking. They actually mirror a similar report he put out last year. Basically, his audits found that most of the state’s schools have enough money in their reserve funds to be able to absorb the $1.5 billion in education cuts proposed in Governor Cuomo’s budget for next school year. DiNapoli made it clear that the reserve fund is only a one year solution.

“…after that, the reserves would be gone and without other actions, the expenses would still need to be addressed. And more than 100 districts across the state don’t have enough reserves for even one year,” DiNapoli said.

The reason the comptroller is in Syracuse is because Central New York and Finger Lakes schools make up a larger portion of the more than 100 districts that don’t have enough reserve funds to make up for this year’s cuts.

If you want to learn more about your schools financial standing, you can look it up here.

About Those Sunglasses…

In preparation for today’s leader’s meeting, here’s a moment of levity from yesterday’s post-three-way press conference during which Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos ribs Gov. Andrew Cuomo about the oversized sunglasses he was snapped sporting during his visit to Saranac Lake Tuesday.

“There was a photo of me today in the New York Post wearing sunglasses. They were not the most fashionable sunglasses. I had just borrowed them from Senator Skelos. That’s the truth, and that’s where I got the glasses.”

(To give credit where it’s due, the photo in question actually first appeared in The Adirondack Daily Enterprise, whose staffers spotted the governor while he was pumping gas at a local Mobil station. Details of Cuomo’s one-day trip to the North Country were not advised by his press office, although some information was later provided).