Written by Rich Forestano Friday, 08 April 2011 00:00
After all the protests and disagreements, after all the proposals and changes, New York State has an on-time budget for the first time in 15 years and just a third on-time budget in 28 years.
New York State passed its $132.5 billion budget on March 31 around 1 a.m., just in time for the April 1 deadline. Overall spending will be cut $3.5 billion (2 percent) from the current year and closes a $10 billion deficit without raising taxes.
The budget included steep cuts in education aid ($1.3 billion or about 6 percent), Medicaid ($1 billion or about 2 percent) and state operations (10 percent).
Over $272 million in education aid was restored after Governor Andrew Cuomo’s initial budget proposal, according to 7th district Senator Jack Martins. The budget also called for eliminating numerous discrete cuts, such as making graduate students ineligible for the state’s Tuition Assistance Program.
“We have a budget,” Martins said via conference call on March 31. “The senate passed the budget late last night and the Assembly passed it early Wednesday morning. I’m assuming at this point that it’s been signed by the Governor and we do have a budget for 2011-2012.”
Nassau County’s school aid in 2010-2011 totaled at $815,053,277. The county saw a $33.6 million decrease to $781,373,688 for 2011-2012.
The Mineola School District has been hit with a 6.12 percent ($323,124) decrease in education aid for 2011-2012. The district’s aid totaled at $4,958,265.
The East Williston School District received $2,289,072 in state aid for this year, a 5.19 percent ($125,219) decrease from 2010-2011. Education cuts received much scrutiny in Cuomo’s initial budget and are still being met with criticism. Martins said the Senate and Assembly did what they thought “was necessary to restore enough funds that would benefit education, while revamping the state.”
“It does cut back on the levels of school aid that was traditionally provided for our school districts,” he said. “I think if you go and look at the numbers, year to year, as a result of the efforts of myself and my colleagues in the Senate, through our efforts of refocusing monies toward schools and education, that we were able to restore a good part of the money taken out in the Governor’s budget.”
In this version of the budget, funding for 4201 schools, such as the Mill Neck Manor School for the Deaf, will not come out of the local schools’ pockets, which was slated to happen in Cuomo’s proposal. Martins said that this change with the 4201 schools is another $98 million in savings.
“People were able to address real issues here,” he said. “For me, it was about striking a balance between continuing to provide for those people who can’t provide for themselves, continuing to provide for special education kids who are in 4201 schools, who simply have no other alternative, and continue to provide significant education funding to our local schools to continue to do the great jobs that they do.”
Over the last 10 years, state aid has increased to 7th district schools by almost 51 percent, according to Martins. He said, when dealing with a state like New York State, there had to be consensus and not everyone got everything they wanted.
“Each area proportionately shared sacrifice,” Martins said of the collaboration in Albany. “I think it was important, not only for this year’s budget but in future years, in how we will conduct ourselves.”
Martins described himself as the “point person” on putting together a package that will be possibly unveiled this week that deals with “structural changes to unfunded mandates on local governments.”
“We’ve always mentioned that the mandate relief has to go hand-in-hand with any cap and I believe that we have the ability to follow up on our commitment that we made when we [passed] the two-percent cap,” Martins said.
There is also a discussion about how to handle the rising pension and health rates, Martins said; these costs are saddling many local school districts with a hefty expense.
“I don’t know necessarily that there’s going to be an exclusion for pension costs and heath care costs,” he said. “I think there may be opportunities for pensions and health care to be addressed either collaboratively, perhaps that we’ll be able to come up with alternatives that will not only take the expense off certain local governments or allow for more equitable distribution of the burden when it comes to non-wage compensation including pensions and health care.”
One item that didn’t make it into this year’s budget discussions is the possible repeal of the MTA payroll tax. The tax accounts for approximately $1.4 billion of the MTA’s budget.
Martins and 3rd district Senator Lee Zeldin campaigned in 2010 against then-incumbents Craig Johnson and Brian Foley respectively, to repeal the tax; a 34-cent levy per $100 of payroll on businesses, schools, nonprofits and municipalities in downstate counties. Martins cited not having an alternate revenue stream to offset the repeal of the tax, which he said he would review in the coming months.
“We do have bills in place,” Martins said. “I’m cosponsoring a bill with Senator Zeldin that would repeal the tax, but the natural question is ‘What do you do when you remove the MTA payroll tax as a funding stream for the MTA?’ It should never have been enacted to begin with.
But now that it is, to repeal it without coming up with an alternative revenue stream to allow the MTA to provide services, I think that is an issue too. We need to go back and reevaluate how the MTA does business and reallocate those resources within the MTA,” he stated.
Concerning Long Island Bus (LIB), which has a budget between $120-$130 million, $53 million of which comes from the state. Over $300,000 has been added to the State’s contribution to LIB.
LIB has been at the forefront of controversy recently concerning Nassau County and the MTA. Martins said discussions have been held with the MTA to continue its commitment toward LIB. The county is looking to privatize LIB.
“We have had discussions with the MTA in the context of this budget regarding Long Island Bus,” Martins said. “My concern is that in this process, we do not disenfranchise those communities who rely on Long Island Bus, including communities that reside in the seventh senate district.”
According to statement released by Martins’ office, the MTA, Nassau County, Martins and Senator Charles Fuschillo announced an agreement on April 1 to stop proposed cuts to LIB that would have affected more than half of the bus routes in Nassau County. The MTA proposed cutting 27 of the 48 Long Island Bus routes this summer due to a lack of funding. The cuts would have impacted about 16,000 riders.
Over $8.6 million in MTA allocations, made available by the Senate, will be utilized to run the bus service through the end of the year, the statement said. This is in addition to the funds appropriated in the 2011-2012 state budget for Long Island Bus.