By Assemblyman Will Barclay
State budget negotiations are taking place and the budget deadline of April 1 is nearly upon us.
Each year, the Senate and the Assembly pass what they consider to be priorities in “one-house budget” resolutions.
The Assembly passed its $138.4 billion one-house resolution earlier this month and the Senate passed its resolution the week before last.
The Assembly’s resolution passed despite unanimous opposition from Assembly Republicans.
I voted against it because it included taxpayer dollars to fund campaigns, there was not enough money for Upstate schools, it does not increase funding for local roads and highways, and it also leaves questions to be answered about all-day, Universal Pre-K. It also favors restrictions on sportsmen.
Schools have been handed more state mandates but given fewer resources. The Assembly budget resolution increases foundation aid but does not fully restore the Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA). Though the Assembly budget increases this by $43 million, there is still a shortage of $1.28 billion for GEA in this version. I would like to see more money allocated to the GEA, as this would help low-wealth, Upstate school districts more directly.
The Assembly resolution also sets aside $100 million this year to fund all-day Universal Pre-K, the same as the Governor’s budget. While I see the benefits of having all-day preschool, I fear this will not be enough to cover all the costs associated with all-day UPK. If it doesn’t come from state aid, there’s a good chance this could land in the local taxpayers’ laps.
Districts have to consider transportation, lunch times, additional staffing and special-area teachers’ time such as library and art when providing a full day of school to children.
Further, the State Education Commissioner stated in budget hearings that the allocation of $1.5 billion projected over a five-year period in the Governor’s budget was likely not enough to cover the costs of such a program. If we are unsure about costs, how can we go ahead and institute such a big mandate?
Another program this budget resolution creates is publicly-funded campaigns. I oppose this. It is poor use of taxpayer dollars. This program would cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars each election year by matching public dollars to private donations. We do not need this built-in, recurring cost. Also, why should our tax dollars go to support politicians – particularly those politicians with whom we may disagree.
The Assembly resolution does increase the Aid to Incentives for Municipalities (AIM) by $280 million up from the Governor’s proposal, but directs $200 million of that to New York City and the remaining $80 million to divide between Rochester, Syracuse, Buffalo and Yonkers. Very little is provided for other municipalities.
Since the additional funding is largely determined by population, it leaves rural localities little hope.
I will continue to fight to reduce unfunded state mandates to help localities.
The resolution also funds the DREAM Act, which removes the citizenship requirement for access to financial aid such as the Tuition Assistance Program (TAP). It would also allow those without citizenship to participate in the 529 tuition savings account and appropriates $25 million for TAP to help pay for what would be an anticipated influx of applicants.
I voted against the stand-alone DREAM Act bill in the Assembly and I don’t support the inclusion of this in the budget resolution.
I was sorry to see there was no increase in funding for Consolidated Highway Improvement Program (CHIPs) as this funding helps maintain and repair local roads, bridges and culverts. Last year my colleagues and I were able to secure additional funding for CHIPs.
The current amount proposed in the Governor’s budget and supported by the Assembly is $438 million, the same as last year.
We need to increase this amount by $50 million to help keep local costs down.
I was disappointed the Assembly resolution did not contain the Governor’s provisions to allow crossbow hunting, and also proposes to keep the 500 foot setback for bow hunters near buildings rather than reducing that threshold to 150 feet, as the Governor’s budget proposes. I hope with budget negotiations, these measures can pass in the final budget.
Throughout the next week, I’m hopeful budget negotiations will be transparent and we will deliver an on-time budget.
If you have any questions or comments or if you would like to be added to my mailing list or receive my newsletter, please contact my office by mail at 200 N. Second St., Fulton, NY 13069, by e-mail at [email protected] or by calling (315) 598-5185.