Last week, Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Manuel Mendez granted an injunction preventing New York State from cutting nearly $260 million in funding to New York City schools. Parents asked for the injunction after city education officials and leaders from the United Federation of Teachers failed to reach an agreement on teacher evaluations. The injunction will remain in place until both sides work something out. So, in other words, the two parties missed a deadline and now do not have a set deadline. This sends the wrong message.
Justice Mendez was out of line when he halted the cuts, which were part of terms known by both parties involved in the negotiations. The reason that deadlines exist is so that people do things on time and do not act irresponsibly and wait to address important issues or complete necessary tasks. The cuts represent just 3 percent of New York City’s funding for this year so they wouldn’t cripple the school system in the city, though a few teachers might be laid off. That wouldn’t be too good for the union, now would it? Fortunately for the union and the city, all bad press has been avoided because Justice Mendez bailed them out.
Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office is planning to file an appeal as it is upset, and rightfully so, about the judicial extension. The state had made coming to an agreement by the deadline a condition for receiving the $260 million in question, so it has a right to be upset when its authority is undermined by a judge. If Albany can’t impose conditions and issue mandates without having to worry about a judge enjoining them, then New York is going to have serious problems functioning.
Albany’s operational issues aside, the principle of deadlines is intrinsically important and should be preserved at all costs. One deadline that’s been getting a lot of media attention as of late is the sequester deadline, which is Feb. 29. President Obama has been using that as leverage to get Republicans in Congress to cooperate, though it is also forcing Democrats to consider making some concessions as well. If a judge suspended that deadline indefinitely, then Congress would have one less incentive to work out new taxes and budget cuts in a timely fashion.
Unions, Congress, college students, everybody needs deadlines, with penalties as an added incentive sometimes. When a judge voids a penalty after a deadline is missed, it creates a moral hazard problem of sorts. It is no different than when the government bails out banks, savings and loans, and companies that are “too big to fail.” These institutions see that they will be bailed out instead of having to face a penalty after engaging in risky behavior, so they go and engage in even riskier behavior. When a judge bails out a union or a city that misses a deadline, it only encourages those institutions to delay and put off negotiations even further. I sincerely hope that the governor’s office wins its appeal and reverses this horrible decision.
Ondo is a member of the class of 2014.