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Gubernatorial Candidates Spar Over Funding For New York Schools

Democratic candidate for governor Cynthia Nixon speaking to the press in Albany Monday NEW YORK NOW

ALBANY, NY (WSKG) - Democratic candidate for governor and actor Cynthia Nixon came to the Capitol to talk about the need for more education aid and what she says are Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s failings in that policy area. Meanwhile, Cuomo’s campaign said it’s Nixon who is being inconsistent.

Nixon spoke before the Small City School Districts association, a group that’s suing the state to obey a 2007 court order that said billions more need to be spent on the state’s schools.

Nixon said Cuomo’s Republican predecessor, former Gov. George Pataki, fought the original court case — known as the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, or CFE — for 12 years. She called Cuomo a “closet Republican,” saying the Democratic governor also has resisted the court order for eight years. And she said the system favors wealthier schools and is “broken.”

“Point of fact, New York is the second-most unequal state when it comes to school funding,” said Nixon, who added there’s a $10,000 gap between funding for pupils in the state’s wealthiest schools versus those in the state’s poorest schools.

Cuomo’s campaign fired back at Nixon, saying she was being inconsistent on her position on whether a property tax cap for schools and local governments should continue. Cuomo campaign spokeswomen Lis Smith said that Nixon is “not ready for prime time.”

Nixon said the Cuomo campaign charges are “100 percent untrue.” Earlier in the spring, she said the governor’s self-imposed state spending cap was “disastrous” but said she’s never outright opposed the tax cap. She said the tax cap rules need to be eased, though, to make it less difficult for schools and municipalities to override the cap if they believe it’s necessary.

“I support the property tax cap, I think we have far too much burden placed on our property owners across New York state,” Nixon said. “I have said, though, that if a locality wants to increase taxes on itself to pay for something like schools, then we should not make it so onerous.”

Nixon said the state needs to take over a greater share of school funding and the state Medicaid health care program so that districts and local government don’t have to collect high taxes to pay for them.

Cuomo was in Albany but did not appear in public. He called in to the cable news channel New York 1, where he agreed that there is inequity in school funding in New York. The governor said he needs to know more, though, about how much each school district is spending on each school.

“Not overall funding, not the myth of CFE court cases, those are non-facts,” said Cuomo. “We spend more money than any other state in the union. Who is getting the money, rich versus poor, black versus white, that’s the question.”

Nixon said Cuomo often says the state spends more money than any other state.

“That sounds to my ear like he’s saying we spend too much,” she said. “And that we should actually spend less.”

Nixon is also pushing for higher taxes on the state’s millionaires to get more money for schools and other priority items, like the subway system.

Cuomo, on New York 1, said that’s a “non-starter” with the Legislature and the votes are not there.

“It’s politically very popular, I get it, and it’s a great slogan, and it polls very high,” Cuomo said. “Because the only people who are against it are the millionaires.”

The governor said he supports congestion pricing to fund mass transit.

Nixon said she thinks if new Democratic lawmakers are elected in November, the millionaires’ tax could pass, and she said many Democrats already in the Senate and state Assembly support it.