Joking, to a Point, About a Property Tax Cap

ALBANY — Unable to afford shoulder pads, the members of the high school football team swaddle themselves with pillows before taking the field. Emergency dispatchers have been replaced by an automated system to save money. After teacher layoffs, school principals are calling for volunteers to teach basic subjects.

Welcome to Bad Cap City, what your city might look like if the State Legislature votes to limit local property taxes. At least that’s the picture painted by the state’s largest teachers’ union.

A spoof Web site pretending to be a news station in Bad Cap City presents all of the above situations, plus some even more far-fetched. It even comes with fake advertisements, including a for-hire garbage pickup (“Call today to take the smell away”) and a $49.95 per month service to speed up emergency response times.

“Possible news from a bad tax cap future,” the Web site explains.

The budget season’s ritual ad wars are under way, and teachers’ unions and education groups have already rolled out conventional television commercials focusing on Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s warning of teacher layoffs. While the airwaves in Albany have been relatively quiet, the Bad Cap City Web site breaches something of a digital new frontier.

The site, which went online two weeks ago, is a product of the New York State United Teachers and New Yorkers for Fiscal Fairness, a liberal advocacy group whose backers include several major unions.

Critics of the property tax cap, which passed the State Senate last month but has not yet been taken up by the Assembly, say it would have the effect of greatly constraining local school spending.

“Obviously, more and more there’s a place for social media and the Web and we’re taking a role in that format,” Richard C. Iannuzzi, the president of New York State United Teachers, said in a telephone interview.

“This gives us an opportunity to use satire as at least one part of the approach to a really bad idea, which is the kind of tax cap that just passed the Senate,” he added. “There’s got to be a place for some levity in the absurdity of the outcomes this particular cap would create.”

It is safe to say the Web site has not yet gone viral. As of Wednesday morning, its Twitter account counted six followers.

The site, which reads something like a version of The Onion if it were to be taken over by political ad makers and moved to Albany, was created by Visuality Media Productions, which has offices in Boston and Madison, Wis.

The site posts a few new articles per week. The day after the Senate approved the tax cap, for instance, it offered the story of a couple, Mary and Owen Johnson, whose house burned down because budget cuts had forced their local firehouse to close.

“We were just enjoying the night toasting our toes by the fireplace,” Mr. Johnson explained. “Then suddenly, a spark fell on our bear skin rug.”

Mr. Iannuzzi said that Mr. Johnson was not meant to be a reference to State Senator Owen H. Johnson, a Republican from Suffolk County who voted for the tax cap the day before the article was posted.


Fears About How the City’s Budget Will Affect Child Care

On Thursday, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg will unveil New York City’s preliminary budget for the next fiscal year. On Wednesday, if you listen very closely, you can hear people throughout the city holding their breath, bracing for deep cuts.

One very nervous group represents advocates and others who work in the child care industry serving poor and low-income women.

With the city budget ax expected to fall on a variety of programs, advocates and child care providers say information that has dribbled out of City Hall makes them fearful that as many as 16,000 of the 100,000 city-subsidized slots could disappear.

“Sixteen thousand people; in the rest of the state of New York, they call that ‘a city,’ ” said State Senator Liz Krueger, a Democrat who represents Manhattan. “We have the State the City and the federal government all potentially cutting various funding streams at the same time.”

About half of the city-financed child care slots are taken by families who receive public assistance, according to the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies, an umbrella organization of human service providers. But welfare laws requiring recipients to work when their children are older than 3 months also mandate that the government provide a place for those children to go.

So slots that are eliminated will come from women who are not on public assistance.

“Market rate for child care is extremely expensive, and folks with limited incomes are already making hard choices about rent and food and such,” said Bich Ha Pham, the director of policy at the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies.

There is a direct correlation, she added, between affordable day care and the ability of parents of limited means being able to keep their jobs.

Marc LaVorgna, a spokesman for Mr. Bloomberg, declined to comment on budget details before its release on Thursday.

The Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies has submitted a proposal to the city and state, based on a program in California, that would suspend the welfare work requirement for parents of very young children.

Such a move, advocates argue, would free up child care slots and allow women who already have jobs to keep them. So far, they say, they have received no commitments. But some lawmakers, like Ms. Krueger are sympathetic.

“You really can’t get a job or look for a job if you’ve got a kid under 5 years old at home alone, because then you’ve broken the law,” Ms. Krueger said. “All the research for decades says that if you want to support women who are looking for work or trying to keep these jobs, the government needs to be there to help with the child care.”


Our political reporters, and occasional guests, offer you a peek inside Albany and City Hall. Check back every Wednesday.

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