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N.Y. Governor Calls for 3 Percent Cut in School Aid

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By Peter Schmidt

Announcing that he was giving up on his attempt to craft an unusual multi-year budget to deal with New York State's growing fiscal problems, Gov. Mario M. Cuomo last week instead proposed immediate, steep cuts in state funding for education and other programs.

The Governor called for a 3 percent reduction in state school aid for the current year, a move that he predicted would generate savings of $256 million to help close this year's projected $875-million budget gap.

The school-aid cuts, Mr. Cuomo said, should be distributed among school districts based on their size and relative wealth, with no district seeing its overall budget reduced by more than 1.5 percent.

To close this year's budget gap without raising taxes, Mr. Cuomo also proposed $214 million in cuts in social services, the elimination of 1,500 state jobs, and a 50 percent reduction in legislative initiatives.

Pressure Tactic?

In his statement, Mr. Cuomo continued to insist that the multi- year budget that he had been discussing with legislative leaders would have been "the most intelligent approach to our fiscal challenge."

Indeed, some analysts speculated that the Governor had not really abandoned his budget plan, but was using the prospect of politically painful budget cuts to put new pressure on legislators to agree.

The plan would have allowed the Governor and legislature to deal at one sitting with this year's budget gap and a shortfall of up to $3.6 billion projected for next year, while enabling school districts to plan for cuts in state funding in advance.

Since he and legislative leaders could not reach agreement on a multi-year budget in a timely manner, Mr. Cuomo said, he was asking lawmakers to reconvene before the end of the year to trim state spending.

Mr. Cuomo's action may also lead to major fights with the legislature next spring, during the height of the campaign for the Democratic Presidential nomination. Although he had not declared his candidacy as of early last week, Mr. Cuomo is widely seen as a potential front-runner for the top spot on the Democratic ticket against President Bush next fall.

Sounding much like a candidate, Mr. Cuomo last week placed much of the blame for his state's fiscal woes on Bush Administration policies and argued that his state's problems were part of "a tale of national economic and fiscal failure."

'Surtax' on Education Seen

The Governor's budget plan almost immediately drew fife form education lobbyists and Republican legislative leaders, who said the proposal was too hard on schools, failed to adequately address the state's sky- rocketing expenditures for social services, and was likely to force municipalities to raise property taxes to offset losses in state funding.

Ralph J. Marino, leader of the Republican majority in the Senate, argued that schools already have suffered "an unprecedented reduction" of more than $500 million in state funding this year. He vowed not to agree "to any deficit-reduction plan that cuts our schools and raises local property taxes in order to pay for uncontrolled growth in Medicaid and other social-services programs."

Louis Grumet, executive director of the New York State School Boards Association, criticized Mr. Cuomo's plan as "a surtax on children's education" that will have a harsh impact on district budgets that already have been cut "into the bone."

Mr. Grumet said a survey by his association shows that school districts in the state have held their expenditures flat during the past year, while Medicaid expenditures have gone up 20 percent. He accused Mr. Cuomo of "asking the system that has held its expenditures in check to subsidize the system that has been running out of control."

Already At Odds

Even before last week's announcement, Governor Cuomo had already been at odds with state educators over next year's funding levels.

The State Board of Regents last month recommended that state aid to schools be increased by up to $642 million for fiscal 1993.

The regents argued that the aid increase was needed to enable schools to maintain current levels of operation and to begin implementing A New Compact for Learning, a sweeping education-reform plan outlined by the board in March.

In response, however, Governor Cuomo blasted the regents' proposal as unreasonable and accused the panel of ignoring fiscal realities.

Mr. Grumet, on the other hand, criticized the regents' request as "wholly inadequate" and asserted that $1.2 billion in new school funding was needed.

The beard's proposal calls for an inflation increase of 4 percent, or $280 million, in operating aid to schools and a rise of up to $200 million in funding for transportation, special education, and capital construction.

The panel also sought $50 million to buy computers for schools and expand pre- kindergarten programs, and $50 million for reform initiatives such as teacher training and the development of new state standards.

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