Karen Magee: Why Do The Rich Need More Tax Credits?

May 21, 2015

Two recent events — one political, one cultural — offer a glimpse into two worlds.

One world is inhabited by Governor Cuomo and his billionaire supporters.  The other is the world the rest of us live in.

At the spring art auctions held in New York City, investors purchased a record $1 Billion worth of paintings and sculpture.  A Picasso went for nearly $180 million… an Andy Warhol for more than $56 million.

That cultural news shared headlines with a political story:  Governor Cuomo’s newest plan to enrich his wealthy backers at the expense of New York’s public schools and colleges and the needs of ordinary New Yorkers.

The Governor’s “Parental Choice in Education Act” would, first, provide tax breaks to those who choose to send their children to private and religious schools.

That, in itself, is troubling.  While we support every parent’s right to choose a private school education for their child, the taxpayers of New York State should not be asked to subsidize that personal choice.

If we start subsidizing people’s personal choices with tax dollars, where do we draw the line?  Do we provide tax credits for those who prefer bottled water to tap water, or tax breaks to golf at country clubs instead of municipal courses?

For that reason alone, state tax dollars — directly or indirectly — should not be going to private schools, especially since — unlike public schools — they can, and do, discriminate by picking and choosing which students they accept.

What’s worse, however, is the governor is proposing huge tax credits — 75 percent of the donation or up to $1 million — to the biggest givers.

Who would they be?  You know:  The billionaires who are sipping champagne and buying art at Sotheby’s.

Look:  Most of us give to charity and we receive charitable deductions for the money we donate to, say, First Book, the American Red Cross or the American Cancer Society.

The governor’s plan goes far beyond that. Cuomo’s tax credit would wipe $750,000 off the tax bill of someone who gives $1 million to a private school like, you know, one of those competitive Park Avenue kindergartens that charge $50,000 tuition.

It’s ridiculous.  I say that if someone can afford to give $1 million to charity, God bless ‘em.  But why, Governor Cuomo, do these people need a tax credit?  Why does the governor want the wealthy to avoid their tax liability and skip out on their obligation to support the public good?

The governor’s tax credit scheme — would represent an unprecedented shift of state dollars from public education, which serves all students, to private schools.

New York’s public schools and colleges face chronic funding shortfalls.  The state “owes” school districts more than $4 billion as part of a court order.

I can think of much better uses for the $150 million in tax credits proposed for the first year of this scheme.

New York can use that money to re-hire some of the dedicated teachers’ aides and assistants who were laid off as a result of the Governor's budget cuts, or to put a school nurse in every building.

The state could increase funding to residential schools for students with special needs.

It could fund more libraries and librarians; invest more in SUNY, CUNY and community colleges; invest in public hospitals; and provide more support for school districts serving our most vulnerable student populations.

Shamefully, our governor has other ideas.  Governor Cuomo is saying with his wrong-headed tax credit plan:  “Why should the wealthy pay taxes to support public services?  After all, they can use that money as a down payment on another Piscasso.”

Karen Magee, a former elementary and special education teacher in Harrison, is president of the 600,000-member New York State United Teachers.

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