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Governor Vetoes Bill That Would Recover $1.4 Million in State Aid

Despite the best efforts of Port’s State Senator Craig Johnson and Assemblywoman Michelle Schimel to recover an estimated $1.4 million in state funding, Governor Paterson last week vetoed the bills that were presented by our legislators and passed unanimously by the Assembly in April and the Senate in June.

The funding stems from a series of repayments for capital projects within the district between 1989 and 1995. The district had received reimbursements for the state’s portion of the expenses, but had to relinquish the funding following the discovery that some paperwork associated with the projects had not been filed with the state. It was noted that there were no allegations of malfeasance connected to unfiled documents, which occurred under a previous school administration.

The bills were part of the 14 bills Governor Paterson vetoed last week feeling that he saved the state $5.7 million. Explaining his action, the governor stated that the bills were drafted outside of the budgetary process and would have expanded non-essential programs and services. Continuing he said, “This is not a time to add to the state’s spending or to increase the burden on the state’s taxpayers.” He added, “While these bills address important causes, government has to live within its means…just like regular New Yorkers do every day.”

When reached for comment State Senator Johnson said, “I am terribly disappointed in the governor’s veto. While we are all very sensitive to the current economic difficulties facing this state, I firmly believe that the Port Washington School District and the taxpayers are rightly owed this funding. I fully intend to reintroduce this bill and will redouble my efforts with Assemblywoman Schimel and Dr. Gordon to correct this historic wrong against the residents of Port Washington.”

Assemblywoman Michelle Schimel had this to say: “In his veto message the Governor described the fiscal difficulty of New York State. In a letter I wrote to him after the veto I told him he should have equal empathy for the Port Washington School District that would otherwise have to pass on these costs to their taxpayers. I asked him to revisit this issue with me.”

While the school district was not counting on this money for this year’s budget, they were extremely disappointed with the Governor’s veto of the $1.4 million reinstatement of state aid to the Port Washington taxpayers. Superintendent of Schools Dr. Geoff Gordon commented, “Although no present BOE members or central office administrators were present in the 1989-1994 time frame when the state determined that numerous districts including Port did not file appropriate construction completion certificates with SED, the research by Assistant Superintendent Callahan indicated that the legislature would look favorably upon reconstructed Cost Completion Reports. With no benefit to the present BOE and administration other than a lot of extra work and the satisfaction of gaining the $1.4 million rightfully owed to our taxpayers, the present BOE and administration spent years of work reconstructing and researching from incomplete records decades old, and finally were able to achieve the goal in 2009. The NY state legislature voted unanimously to approve 5 districts state aid, which had taken the time to do everything required to regain the lost aid (in Port’s case beginning nearly two decades ago).

The superintendent adds, “It is cruel and unusual punishment to punish present Port taxpayers and present Port BOE members and central office administrators all of whom are completely innocent of anything previously not submitted. Moreover, by changing the rules after the fact (past practice was to reinstate district aid for districts who completed Cost Completion Reports) the Governor has chosen to override the unanimous bi-party support of both Republicans and Democrats. In today’s world, as Port’s Superintendent of Schools who spent years on this project, it is not acceptable for political leaders to say they want to reduce taxpayer burden and then take actions that actually increase taxpayer burden. All of us who live in Port and pay taxes are being treated unfairly, and that cannot be accepted.”

Thanking all for the good fight, Dr. Gordon said he is happy to note that our legislators have vowed to reintroduce the bill.

“For my and our part,” said the superintendent, “we will continue to work for our taxpayers to get the state aid returned no matter how long and how hard we have to work to do so. Every fair-minded person knows that innocent people should never be punished for what others before did, or in this case did not do. To the best of our abilities, we will lead by example to ensure that fairness and truth overcome a veto based upon inaccurate conclusions.”