A Teachable Moment

Former local teacher union pesident Morty Rosenfeld periodically attempts to make sense of the increasingly senseless world of public education.

Federal Tax Code and School Budgets

Most of New York State relies heavily on the property tax to support its local public schools. As a result, communities with a deep property base have generally had outstanding public schools, while property poor districts have been unable to provide the same level of quality. The inherent unfairness of tying the quality of a child’s education to the zip code of his residence is a problem that has had more than its share of lip service and much less serious political discussion than it deserves.

The recent changes in the tax code restricting the deductibility of state and local taxes and mortgage interest will make the discussion of how we finance our public schools even more vital. In communities like the Long Island suburb in which I live, it is almost impossible to have a conversation with a fellow citizen without the subject of ever-escalating property taxes coming up. While most communities have historically supported their local school budgets, they have done so grudgingly. Here in New York, the exasperation over ever-rising property taxes led our craven politicians to pass a property tax cap rather than reassess how we raise money to support our public institutions. While the property tax cap has and will continue to significantly damage our public schools, public pressure to reduce these taxes even further is a sure thing now that the federal government is reduced its subsidy of home ownership.

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Tax Bill a Shot at Public Education

I’ve seen little in the criticism of the Republican’s legislation to redistribute income to the wealthiest Americans about the threat it poses to the financing of public education. Limiting the deductibility of state and local taxes and mortgage interest payments will have a profoundly negative effect on the ability of school districts to raise the revenue necessary to maintain quality. Under the current federal tax law, there has been a growing reluctance of people to shoulder an ever growing property tax burden leading to support for property tax caps in states like New York and California.

The deductibility of state and local taxes and mortgage interest has been part of a conscious federal effort to encourage home ownership. Had these policies not been put in place, our suburbs would undoubtedly look very different than they do today. Removing these inducement to home ownership will not only make the already difficult job of financing public education in our suburbs more difficult, it will probably also slow or end the appreciation of real estate in suburban communities, further enraging homeowners as the equity in their houses fails to meet their expectations.

There is no doubt about it. This so-called tax reform redistributes income upwards while it takes a retributive shot at blue states that support public education and quality government services.

I’m off to California for a few says. I’ll be back here on the 27th.

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