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Politics and Government

Some Assemblymembers say pro-education tax credit campaign is backfiring

Karen Dewitt
WRVO News (file photo)

One day after Gov. Andrew Cuomo arranged a meeting  with some state lawmakers and Catholic Church leaders to promote the education tax credit, the measure seems to be losing support among Assembly Democrats, with some Democrats saying they are angered by tactics used by backers, which has included picketing their offices.

Cuomo’s bill would allow donors to private school scholarship funds and public after school programs to give up to one million dollars, and in exchange receive a credit of $750,000 on their taxes. The leaders of the Catholic Church, which runs hundreds of schools in the state, back the measure, and church leaders, including Cardinal Timothy Dolan, were invited to a lunch at the governor’s mansion to try to persuade legislators who have not signed on to the bill.

Cardinal Dolan says he thought it was a success.

“I sure enjoyed it and benefited from it, and from what the participants were kind of enough to say, so did they,” Dolan said on Monday. “So alleluliah."

Dolan says no minds were immediately changed, but there was talk of compromise.

Senate Republicans, who are in charge of that chamber, have already approved a similar version of the bill.

But there is opposition among some Assembly Democrats. Speaker Carl Heastie says the measure won’t come to the floor for a vote unless there is enough support among Democrats alone to back the bill. That would require 76 yes votes among Democrats in the 150 member chamber. Heastie, who met with Dolan one-on-one, says the backing is not there.

“It still is a very difficult subject in the conference,” Heastie said.

Heastie characterized some member’s opposition as a “core principle” for some Democrats, and he says he won’t ask them to go against their core beliefs to vote for any measure.

At least one Assemblymember, Ron Kim of Queens, has changed his mind, and has now withdrawn his support for the bill. Kim says he no longer thinks it’s the right priority, and that there needs to be more focus on fully funding public schools first .

“I signed up to protect our public schools, not just a portion of our community,” Kim said.  

An order by the state’s highest court several years ago required billions more dollars be spent on struggling schools, but that decision has never been fulfilled.

Kim says he was not swayed by the teachers unions, who oppose the education tax credit. But says he does believe that  teachers were  not well treated in the state budget, which also included strict new performance evaluation rules for public school teachers .

“Public school teachers felt targeted, and rightfully so,” said Kim, who said the public school teachers, under the new rules, are held to a different accountability standard than in private schools.

“I feel like this legislation doesn’t really help,” Kim said.  

Other assemblymembers say they are angered about tactics used by the pro education tax credit forces. Mailers went out to constituents of targeted assemblymembers, including Patricia Fahey of Albany and Linda Rosenthal, who represent Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Rosenthal says people in her district called her to complain about them. She says the mailings are “deceptive and dishonest."

“By insinuating to my constituents that I’m a crook and I’m voting myself a raise and that I’m depriving children of education resources is a lie,” said Rosenthal. “It just makes me and others scornful of them.”

Teachers and students from a local Catholic school said they planned to picket outside Rosenthal’s New York City office Tuesday afternoon. The groups had already targeted another assemblywoman’s offices, Rodneyse Bichotte earlier in the week.  Rosenthal, who learned of the event from a reporter says she does not the protesters will accomplish their aims.

“To do a protest in front of my office in New York City when I’m up here in Albany is foolish and a waste of time,” Rosenthal said.

Rosenthal says she’d be happy to talk to the teachers and their students, if they want to come to her office when session is over for the week and she returns.