Putting it another way, trying to ensure that New Paltz remains affordable for the people who live here and wish to use real estate as an investment in this community is damned near impossible. In fact, as this week's budget vote shows, we very nearly saw an unacceptably large tax hike get shoved down our throats.
Two sides of the same coin, and it's the same old coin, despite the extra wrinkles thrown in by the tax cap. Education is part of the long-term planning we make as a society, but that doesn't mean diddly to someone who is fighting to fend off foreclosure or only bought that house because they were told that rental income is "passive" in some alternate reality.
It's a crappy system. New York State has abdicated its obligation under its own constitution to provide education, shifting it, as our spineless legislators always do, onto the local municipalities and taxpayers. But even if the state did its job, that would not make the ballooning costs magically stop ballooning.
|This anti-budget message went viral on Facebook.|
This week's budget proposal exceeded the tax cap, and only 60% of those bold budgets got passed statewide, while something near 99% of the budgets within the cap requirements were approved. Just as they did with the middle school renovation, the board worked really hard on explaining why they needed this money, how important it is, and what bad things would happen if this didn't pass.
And that's where the problem begins. I don't think people are actually opposed to education, nor do I think people are really offended by intellectual pursuits, but boy do they hate snobbery.
Now I'm more educated that many Americans, and much less so than many New Paltz residents, and from where I stand it seems that each degree a person earns beyond the first has a chance of injecting some snobbery into their attitude. The way it's expressed is through an unspoken message, "My idea is correct. I know more than you do about this subject, so obviously if you disagree with me it's because you don't understand what I am saying. There is no valid reason for you to disagree other than your own ignorance. I shall try to explain this in small words your uneducated brain can understand, because once you do you will bow to my superior intellect."
The problem is, there are other points of view, and this approach dismisses those views as ignorant. Given the amount of time that the board spends researching these subjects, it's understandable that they and their supporters (which include me) believe that this budget was the best possible option. But to approach the problem as if you already have dismissed all of the arguments and this should be a foregone conclusion forgets one fact:
Their vote does not depend upon your knowledge.
Do I think it's sad that Highland's budget was defeated by people who can't spell? I sure do. But it wasn't defeated by people without education, it was defeated by people who vote. The voters have the power to deny you what you want, and as Robert McNamara notes in The Fog of War, the best way to deal with that dynamic is to empathize with the enemy. (I'm using "enemy" loosely here to describe the people who have the power to deny, in this case the school district voters.)
How much empathy was shown for the naysayers? Did we:
- imagine the fear of someone on a fixed income who sees a tax increase which is twice the Social Security hike for the year?
- ask for their help in lobbying for a new way to fund education?
- talk to them about why we insist on negotiating multi-year contracts with the unions, which tie the hands of future boards by making up to 75% of the school budget contractual and thus untouchable?
- work with them to find ways the community can help make up for the quality programs that are being cut?
New Paltz sees itself as a battleground, and thus it is. There will always be people without children living here, and people who only use properties to make money, and their views will always be exercised in the voting booth. It may not be fair that this is the only local budget subject to such scrutiny, it's the system until we can get it changed, so maybe it's time to start empathizing with the enemy rather than just drawing new battle lines.