Teachers Union Girds for Fight Against Paterson’s Cuts

ALBANY—The New York State United Teachers union, which has made no bones about its displeasure with David Paterson's call to cut funding for education, is not ruling out an advertising blitz against him.

"That's always on the table," said Frank Maurizio, a NYSUT spokesman. Already, the union is running an open letter to lawmakers in the upcoming issue of the Legislative Gazette newspaper and Capitol, a monthly magazine.

"We traditionally approach things and use legislative and communications resources, and we will make that determination to run ads or not and when to run them in consultation with the legislative department," he said.

The union will also encourage members to attend a rally scheduled for November 18, when the legislature is scheduled to be back in town for a special session.

A number of unions have lined up against Paterson's call for budget cuts. One, CSEA, has already begun airing radio ads. NYSUT hasn't been shy about putting money into political causes in the past–it ran a major ad campaign against the proposal for a cap on annual property tax increases.

Reached by phone yesterday, NYSUT President Richard Ianuzzi explained his opposition to the governor's current position this way: "I would not encourage locals to support reductions in service that would cheat students out of what they should be getting. And if it means looking at the revenue side rather than removing that essential service, I would argue that it's our obligation as a state, and it's an obligation that the federal government has as well."

He called instead for a special tax on high-income earners–the controversial millionaire's tax. "It's not spending that went up, it's revenue that collapsed," he said. "We ought to be looking at the revenue side of things."

Iannuzzi has something of an ally in current State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, who, at least for the special session next week, controls the majority. Skelos is on record opposing education cuts, though he has also opposed increasing taxes on the wealthy (as has Paterson).

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver is on record saying that everything remains on the table. But although he has long advocated the millionaire's tax, he recently said he won't push for it during the special session.

Paterson has recently recast himself as a fiscal hawk. (For example, his budget-calculator web site does not offer tax increases as option for balancing the budget.) As the voice of austerity, Paterson earned the approval of 57 percent of registered voters in a recent poll.

Despite what appears to be general approval for the governor's tough budgetary measures, though, Ianuzzi clearly believes that a fight for public opinion over education cuts can still be won.

"Clearly education funding is something that you can't put off," he said. "A child attends school during a certain period of their life, and if that year goes by, a child can't go back and have two years next year."