State Assemblyman Thomas P. DiNapoli sees the New York State budget as being on a ''fast track.'' Addressing the Great Neck Village Officials Association on April 26, Mr. DiNapoli said that he anticipated a budget vote during the upcoming two weeks. Offering a comprehensive overview of the proposed budget and presenting some ''good news'' for local government, the assemblyman also noted that, since the budget should be finished earlier than usual this year, there should also be time for some important post-budget work.
''This has been a very interesting year ... with the budget on a very fast track,'' said Mr. DiNapoli. He said that there has been agreement on ''broad areas'' and he spoke of some good recommendations that came from Governor Pataki. Mr. DiNapoli also explained that the conference committee process is in place and is working well. Plus, he stressed that New York's economy is strong, with a surplus, and, thus, there is the opportunity to address important needs.
Mr. DiNapoli broke down the budget into two ''major areas,'' education and health care. While he mentioned that the health care issue has been addressed before, he said that when it came to education, this year ''we started at a better point ... because the governor's proposals started at a better place ... with a much more conciliatory tone ...''
And although Mr. DiNapoli had expected a final budget sooner, it was held up before the holidays ''because the Governor's office took up two non-budget items'' (STAR changes and proposals regarding reforming the debt process).
As for ''good news for local government,'' Mr. DiNapoli first spoke about the county. While the health care reform act means coverage for more people, the Governor looked to the county to pick up the tab, basically an unfunded mandate. However, Mr. DiNapoli said that the funding should come from the state, and there might be about $20 million for Nassau County.
As for revenue sharing, this has been limited and was cut back during tough fiscal times. Mr. DiNapoli stated that the Assembly has been a strong advocate of revenue sharing and the Assembly budget proposal had a 20 percent increase for towns, villages and cities. He noted that even 20 percent is not enough. What is expected, at this point, is a 5 percent across the board increase. For the larger villages this could mean ''a few thousand extra dollars.''
Regarding infrastructure (roads and bridges), Mr. DiNapoli said that ''We have brought a fair amount of money to the district.'' He also said that there have been many requests for road work money, and this can be difficult, as his district covers more villages than any other district in the state. However, he said that recently they have been able to do more and the hope is for more funding for more road work. The good news is the reinstatement of CHIPS program for such work.
More good news for local government concerns a transportation bond act --- $3.8 billion --- which will come up for a vote in November. The money would go directly to the villages, but just how is ''unclear at this point.''
Discussing the anticipated opportunity for post-budget work, Mr. DiNapoli noted the ''hottest items,'' the Wicks Law and cell tower sites. He said that the Wicks Law (dealing with contractors) is ''long overdue for reform,'' but that a ''repeal won't happen.'' The cell tower site issue is a hot topic mostly upstate. Mr. DiNapoli explained that the federal government has laws limiting some of what municipalities can do to regulate these towers. There has been talk of a statewide statute, but this failed since some villages wanted to pass their own laws. ''This is a gray, complicated area,'' said the assemblyman.
Fielding some questions from the assembled mayors, Mr. DiNapoli told Great Neck Estates Mayor Ed Causin about proposals concerning drug company regulations. Mayor Causin complained about the rising costs of prescription drugs, and Mr. DiNapoli said there has been talk regarding Maine's statute that prohibits drug companies from offering drugs in this country at a higher cost than elsewhere (such as in Canada).
VOA President and Russell Gardens Mayor Dan Nachmanoff asked about surplus funds for local not-for-profit organizations such as COPAY and UCF, organizations that are hurting due to county cut-backs. Mr. DiNapoli stated that he and State Senator Michael Balboni have helped in this area, with discretionary funds. There has been funding ($15 million) for transportation and for contract agencies, but he also said that the state does not want to ''reward Nassau County for its fiscal mismanagement-management.'' Mr. DiNapoli said that they were able to secure $8.7 million for the bus cuts, but then Nassau County Executive Thomas Gulotta went for more cuts. ''We will not throw money at Nassau County until there is some oversight...because there is no guarantee how the money will be spent,'' Mr. DiNapoli stated.
While Mr. DiNapoli spent some moments saying how much he enjoyed this opportunity to speak in his ''home community...a model for other parts of the county,'' Mayor Nachmanoff thanked the assemblyman for being ''a real friend to all of us on this peninsula.''