In his 2006-07 budget proposal, Governor Pataki took a page from the state Senate Republican majority’s book of ideas for reforming education finance. Last week, he rolled out a “Star Plus” property tax relief plan to put cash directly in school taxpayers’ pockets.

Star Plus promises a $400 direct rebate check to every homeowner in every school district that adopts spending caps keeping annual budget increases to 4 percent or 120 percent of the increase in the Consumer Price Index, whichever is less. The idea is to get schools to limit spending increases by rewarding — or denying — the people in the community whom school board members must face.

We’d like to applaud, but the pitch is so disingenuous, so driven by the blame game, we can only say, “give it a rest, gov.”

Like the Senate majority in its “Reform-NY” platform statement, Pataki is quick to denounce school spending without recognizing the reasons why it has exploded in recent years. Energy costs aren’t necessarily in Albany’s grasp, but the costs of school employee health insurance and pension benefits most assuredly are. State labor law leaves school boards too few options when negotiating benefits with powerful labor unions. State-mandated local contributions to the retirement system leave the boards and taxpayers gasping.

Instead of pretending the “excess” spending is somehow the districts’ fault, the governor should have the courage to admit it’s Albany’s excesses that drive the hikes in local tax rates. And where is this $400 per property taxpayer supposed to come from, anyway?

Equally disappointing about Pataki’s “relief” talk: It again refuses to acknowledge a state court finding that New York City schools are unconstitutionally underfunded. The court ordered the state to plow billions more into those schools.

The ruling won by the Campaign for Fiscal Equity has relevance all over the state because it basically said state government’s hypercomplicated, 50-plus formula approach to state aid is corrupt. The money isn’t flowing where it’s needed to ensure all New York students receive a sound, basic education. Wealthier districts get just as much or more than poorer districts, enabling them to be less taxed while the poorer districts tax themselves ever more to keep up with the bills and the mandates.

Guess which category most of our local schools fall into.

Reforming the aid process to provide equity will be a far more challenging task, technically and politically, than issuing feel-good rebate checks. From the man who is said to have presidential ambitions, a show of real leadership would be nice.

The governor should forget false fixes and find the wherewithal to tackle genuine education finance reform.

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