$350 checks are a political bribe

A bad idea has been resurrected in this year’s New York state budget, another example of the political games for which Albany is infamous.

Rebate checks for $350 will be sent to every household with at least one child that reported between $40,000 and $300,000 in income the year before. That pay range is supposed to represent the middle class, though it’s hard to justify that people making almost $300,000 a year need handouts from the state.

Sure, it’s nice to get a check like that in the mail, but this is bad public policy for many reasons.

First, it’s a re-election bribe with your own money. The checks will be issued next year, which happens to be a election year for Gov. Andrew Cuomo and many state legislators. They intend you to remember this check when you fill out your ballot. Make sure you see through that.

If the state doesn’t need your money, it shouldn’t take it to begin with.

But the state does need your money – for schools, for instance. The Tupper Lake Central School District is close to insolvency because of an unfair state funding formula, and that’s after laying off 25 percent of its teaching staff a few years ago. For many people in Tupper Lake, those state rebate checks are going to be especially bitter.

Saranac Lake, Lake Placid and other school districts, as well as municipalities statewide, are also in dire straits. The state under Gov. Cuomo restricts their funding, saddles them with expensive mandates – from student testing to special education to Medicaid – and then makes it hard for them to increase their own property and sales taxes to pay for these things. New York may soon lose some cities and school districts to bankruptcy, yet when asked about that, Gov. Cuomo dismissively told them all to consolidate with their neighbors – easy to say but very hard to do. Yet another village, Champlain, voted Tuesday not to dissolve itself.

Consolidation does make good sense – to us as well as to Gov. Cuomo, Sen. Betty Little and many others – but it’s hard to see how it will produce enough savings to fully save our schools and municipalities from the trap they’re in.

The state, meanwhile, needs to sharply reduce its costly mandates, the promise of which was essential to getting the tax cap approved. Until Gov. Cuomo does that, he should not lecture local governments about consolidation.

Even on top of mandate relief and consolidation, one way or another, the state of New York is going to have to kick in more money for these basic services. If it has to sacrifice some of the economic development funds politicians love to crow about – but which, in our experience, do much less good than they say – well, that’s just prioritizing.

Spending $350 million on these $350 checks should be very low on the priority list – right above dropping it from airplanes for bystanders to grab as they may.

These handouts have happened before in recent years, at both the state and federal levels. Each time it was by a dysfunctional government desperate to get the public to like it again. It’s a clear sign of floundering. Even if it makes the governor and lawmakers more popular, it will make them less respected.

The fact that Sen. Little has spoken in favor of these rebates saddens us. We urge her and Assembly members Janet Duprey and Dan Stec to instead reject these rebate checks.

P.S.: Good things have also come out of the negotiations over the state budget. We focused on this bad thing first, to urge lawmakers to consider it in their votes, but tomorrow we’ll praise state officials for the sensible direction they’re taking on the minimum wage, ammunition clips and other things.