Governor David Paterson thinks he knows what's on New Yorkers' minds. On Monday, the governor predicted that voters across the state would reject tax increases for local school budgets "because voters are saying public spending must be cut and tough decisions are needed," according to BusinessWeek. "I think people will be very surprised when the public -- not the governor, not the Legislature -- votes down a lot of those plans saying, 'Spend less money,' saying 'You can't spend money that you don't have,' saying that it's time for us to make the tough decisions to get out of this recession and back to prosperity," he continued.
It's Governor Paterson himself who got a surprise. On Tuesday New Yorkers across the state rejected damaging education cuts and voted overwhelmingly to pay for the investments necessary to keep their schools strong. While voters in New York City and several other large school districts did not have the opportunity to cast ballots, the message sent in 619 elections on local school budgets was clear: New Yorkers may be hurting, but we still recognize the critical importance of educating the next generation - and we're willing to pay for it.
"Hard choices" and "tough decisions" may indeed be necessary at a time when the recession has devastated state and local budgets in New York and across the country. But this week's vote suggests that New Yorkers understand that the answer is not as simple as hacking away at the public services that support our communities. In fact, economists find that cutting public services and curtailing spending is precisely the wrong way to "to get out of this recession and back to prosperity," with cuts harming New York's long- and short-term economic future far more than tax increases, especially those that target the wealthy.
In the meantime, the Obama Administration has finally put its support behind the Local Jobs for America Act, providing local schools with a fraction of the bailout we gave risk-taking banks. The bill saves jobs in communities across the country while making exactly the investments in education and other public services that New Yorkers have shown they are willing to stand up and support.