Published Online: July 14, 2004
Published in Print: July 14, 2004, as State Journal

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On Hold in N.Y.

With the court-ordered deadline for fixing New York’s school finance system nearing, the state legislature has adjourned without producing a plan—and it has not scheduled any sessions to work on one.

As a result, the advocates who sued the state are urging its three most powerful political leaders to put aside their animus and get a solution by the July 30 deadline.

"I’m angered, and I’m frustrated as hell," said Michael A. Rebell, the executive director of the New York City-based Campaign for Fiscal Equity. "They should have done their job."

Mr. Rebell concedes that the state still could solve the problem in time to meet the deadline. Because the legislature’s rules vest so much power in each chamber’s leaders, Gov. George E. Pataki could broker a closed-door deal with them and rush it through the legislature.

Michael A. Rebell

The problem is, he said, that the Republican governor; Senate President Joseph L. Bruno, also a Republican; and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Democrat, are known not to like one another.

Even as the legislature adjourned late last month, the three took potshots at one another for failing to address the school funding dilemma, election reform, and other pressing state issues.

Gov. Pataki "has denied the court’s findings [in the school finance case] and, to date, has abdicated his responsibility to the children of this state," Speaker Silver said in a June 23 statement.

If the political process doesn’t work, Mr. Rebell is confident that the court will be on his side.

The state’s highest court assigned the original trial judge the task of overseeing the state’s remedy. That same judge gave the Campaign for Fiscal Equity an extremely favorable decision in 2001, Mr. Rebell said.

"We’ve done well in court in the past," he said. "If it goes back to the court, we’re confident the court will enforce its judgment."

Perhaps the only problem with that route would be political: The high court’s ruling ordered a solution only for New York City, but a court-ordered resolution that leaves out other cities and towns in the state might cause an uproar.

"That scares lots of people in other parts of the state, for obvious reasons," Mr. Rebell said.

—David J. Hoff

Vol. 23, Issue 42, Page 25

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