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Boro assemblyman defends override of Pataki’s budget

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State Assemblyman Mark Weprin (D-Bayside) defended the Legislature’s override vote on the state budget and attacked education cuts sought by Gov. Pataki as harmful to northeast Queens at a meeting of the Eastern Queens Democratic Club in Douglaston Thursday.

“I am astounded at the lack of leadership Gov. Pataki has shown in the last few months,” said Weprin, speaking at the Democratic Party club’s meeting place, Pride of Judea Community Services.

“What he did this year is really desert a lot of people in this state,” he added, pointing out that Pataki’s budget cut more than a billion dollars from education, eliminated universal pre-kindergarten and adult day care programs and raised tuition at state universities.

The Legislature overrode Pataki’s veto of lawmakers’ plan to raise sales and income taxes as part of a bailout package for the deficit-ridden city.

Particularly hurtful to northeast Queens residents were cuts to education, Weprin said, because the area’s quality schools are the main attraction for younger, well-off residents.

“Eastern Queens really does rely on those schools,” said Weprin, whose son attends a District 26 school. “If you take the money out of those schools, people are going to pick up and leave.”

Weprin said if people with the financial means to move to Nassau County or Connecticut left in search of better schools, the trend would spell disaster for the overall quality of city schools.

Anna Levine, a member of Community Board 11’s ad hoc education committee, decried an agreement between state Sen. Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose) and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein under which each school district would now have an administrator and an office.

“While I don’t love it, it’s definitely a big step forward,” said Weprin of the agreement, which he said accomplished much of what the legislation sought to preserve — a local point of contact for parents into the school system.

But most of Weprin’s comments were directed at the governor. The assemblyman said Pataki’s mantra in the budget battle, that he opposed “job-killing taxes,” was hypocritical because service cuts and tuition increases also hurt jobs.

“We are suffering in this state, in this city in particular,” said Weprin, who said 80,000 jobs lost in Lower Manhattan after Sept. 11 had not been replaced nor had the tax revenue that came with those jobs.

The city’s dependence on the financial district to generate revenue had caused the Legislature to make up the difference through unpleasant but necessary tax hikes, said Weprin, who called his Republican colleagues’ vote against Pataki “a real act of courage.”

Reach reporter Ayala Ben-Yehuda by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.

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