Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Wither the Middle Class?

In the ongoing debate over the governor's call for fiscal austerity, there has emerged a concern over the concept of "shared sacrifice." In the view of a number of advocates, the sacrifice in the governor's proposals is being borne too heavily by what they describes as the middle class. Here's how the Gotham Gazette frames this: "Advocates with big hopes for a Democratic majority were left reeling after the governor's speech. "If the State of the State had a theme, it was the repeated phrase "shared sacrifice." But critics like Billy Easton, executive director of the Alliance for Quality Education, found that disingenuous. "The governor reiterated the call for shared sacrifice," said Easton, "but he is not listening to New Yorkers who overwhelmingly want those earning over $250,000 to share in the sacrifice by paying a little more in taxes." "Instead of soak the rich, it's soak the middle class," wrote Dan Cantor, executive director of the Working Families Party, in a statement."

All of this has an air of unreality to it-with middle class being reified as a construct with little bearing on real world definitions. In our view, the middle class-home owners, small businesses and tax payers all-is being gouged by a bloated government apparatus that is too large, unwieldy and much too expensive to maintain. As far as quality education is concerned, how is the middle class helped by school systems that already spend lavishly per pupil with little to show for the increased funds?

The discussion of the millionaire's tax begs the entire question of whether this government is functioning in an efficient manner for the citizens it is supposed to serve. In this sense, the debate over the millionaire's tax is the kind of non sequitor that allows advocates to divert attention away from government dysfunction, and towards a class warfare approach that will do more harm to the very same middle class that these folks purport to represent.

Here's how they explain their position in regards to education: "In particular many advocates see the governor's budget ax falling disproportionately on the education sector. Paterson has abandoned a program of increasing aid to needy districts and instead has proposed cutting $2.5 billion from the state's legal commitment to fund schools that are most in need. Palast, whose Campaign for Fiscal Equity sued the state to secure more state funding for New York City schools, said that Paterson's cuts to education will further delay improvement in school districts that are in desperate need of funding. Palast said state budget could be boosted by "progressive revenue options," such as the Fair Share Tax reform. Easton said he fully expects the Senate Democrats to come through and "stand up to the governor and make restoration of the cuts to education. They supported us in the minority and we expect they are the same people they were before they took the majority."

Notice that there's not a word about the size and scope of government-let alone any awareness about how unwisely all of the increased funding over the past decade has been utilized. To do so, would be to become part of a solution. And where do these folks think that tax revenues actually come from?

This folks clearly come from the "Hear No Evil" set; unwilling to confront the fiscal meltdown with anything that will enable the state's economy to get through these really tough times: "And yet, after Paterson delivered his speech, it was clear that many of those groups had not heard what they hoped to. "The state of our state is perilous," Paterson warned before launching into poetry and rallying cries. He did not issue the expected doom and gloom diatribe about the realities of the economy in an attempt to convince legislators and the public to accept the deep cuts he has proposed in next year's budget. The budget, though, was clearly the backdrop to the address and to the beginning of this session in the state capital."

What we need from the legislature is a bold plan to retrench on government waste; and a clear program of reform that eliminates duplication and unnecessary agencies and programs. In this context, the call for more taxes, is not the way to go-as is potentially ruinous for the very people that the advocates say they are acting to defend.