Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell: Assembly Advances Budget That Protects Working Families

Addresses largest budget gap in state history through responsible cuts and asking wealthy to temporarily pay a little more
March 30, 2009

Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell (D-Theresa) announced the Assembly will begin passage of the 2009- 2010 state budget on March 31. Budget bills have been introduced and are currently aging on legislators’ desks.

Noting the extraordinary economic challenges facing the nation, Russell said the budget being advanced holds the line on state spending while preventing drastic cuts and protecting those most vulnerable during this economic hardship, and added that this years budget will spend less in general funds than the previous year.

The Budget will close a projected $17.65 billion gap by implementing $5.1 billion in necessary spending cuts, raising $5.2 billion in revenue, utilizing $1.1 billion in non-recurring revenues and maximizing $6.2 billion in federal stimulus dollars.

“We ensure the budget is not balanced on the backs of working families by rejecting over $1 billion in nuisance taxes and fees as proposed in the executive budget and preserves the Basic and Enhanced STAR exemptions to continue providing property tax relief for homeowners,” Russell said.

Russell added that the budget prevents the deepest cuts to schools, reverses some damaging cuts in health care, and begins implementation of permanent health care spending reforms that will lead to $1.6 billion in savings this year and billions more in future years.

Ensuring working families do not shoulder the tax burden

Russell said that faced with the largest budget gap in New York’s history, the budget imposes a three-year temporary income tax increase on high earners that will raise $4 billion and prevent deep cuts to education, health care and services for seniors, children and the disabled.

“Currently in New York it does not matter if you make $40,000 or $40 million – you pay the same tax rate. That puts a greater burden on the middle class,” Russell said. “In addition, most high earners live either outside of New York State or in New York City. This surcharge will give the North Country a fighting chance.”

The budget also provides $3.5 billion in property tax relief by preserving the STAR exemption. The Assembly rejected proposals in the executive budget worth $1.3 billion to raise the sales tax on clothing, increase the gas tax, and impose dozens of small taxes and fees on services that middle-class families depend on.

“I have heard from constituents in every corner of my district who are concerned with these proposed taxes,” Russell said. “Their messages to me where carried to Albany with me every day. Clearly this is no time to create additional burdens for families struggling every day to make ends meet.”

Restoring $1.1 billion to school districts

The 2009-2010 state budget continues the Assembly’s commitment to providing a quality education for New York State’s children despite tough economic times. The budget stabilizes aid to schools and reduces the burden on taxpayers by restoring $1.1 billion to school districts.

“The budget could have been a disaster for schools, students and taxpayers,” Russell said. “In preparation for state cuts to school aid, many Jefferson and St. Lawrence County school districts were slated to lay off staff, cut services, sports and after school activities while still needing to raise taxes. The aid provided in the budget will help alleviate some of these measures.”

Overall, schools will benefit by an estimated increase of $403 million over the 2008-2009 school year. Foundation aid for the 2009-2010 school year will remain at current levels. The Assembly continues its historic commitment to foundation aid by phasing in full funding over three years, a year earlier than the executive’s proposal, starting in 2011-2012.

The budget also uses federal funds to help local school districts over the next two years, including:

  • $906 million in Title 1 funds, which is financial assistance for schools with high percentages of disadvantaged children, to help ensure all children meet the state’s academic standards; and
  • $794 million under the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA), ensuring that mandatory early intervention, special education and related services are provided to children with disabilities.

The budget also restores $30 million in funding for non-public schools and $10.6 million in funding for libraries.

The Assembly continues its commitment to universal pre-kindergarten by maintaining funding at $376 million. In addition, the budget accepts the executive’s proposal to allow for the mid-year expansion of programs that started in the 2008-2009 school year.

The budget rejects the Preschool Special Education cost shift onto school districts, which will save school districts $185 million in the 2009-2010 school year. The budget also provides $40 million for Teacher Centers, and restores the Adult Literacy Education program.

Investing in higher education

Recognizing the significant economic development impact of the State University of New York (SUNY), the budget invests $2.5 billion for SUNY, nearly $118 million more than last year.

“Now more than ever we should be encouraging students to continue their education,” Russell said. “In my district alone, our college students are already working on new innovative ways to create jobs and solve our energy crisis through clean renewable resources. We must continue to support our future generations of leaders by making our local colleges and universities more affordable.”

The budget rejects the $49.9 million cut to the Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) – a program that provides eligible New York residents annual grants of up to $5,000, based on income – which students do not have to pay back. The cut would have based TAP awards on the number of credits a student takes, reducing TAP grants for full-time students who take less than 15 credit hours.

The spending plan includes the following restorations to TAP:

  • $31 million to reject the reduction of TAP awards relative to the amount of credits taken;
  • $6.5 million to reject arbitrary academic eligibility standards;
  • $5.7 million to provide award enhancements for families with multiple children in college;
  • $3.7 million restoration for awards to students in default of federal student loans not guaranteed by the Higher Education Services Corporation (HESC); and
  • $3 million to provide awards to graduate students.

In addition, the budget restores $3.6 million for the Collegiate Science and Technology Entry Program (CSTEP), and maintains funding for the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP), the Higher Education Opportunity Program (HEOP), and the Search for Education, Elevation and Knowledge (SEEK) program. Through counseling, tutoring, financial assistance and drop-out prevention, these programs are dedicated to encouraging enrollment in college, and helping ensure success.

Protecting health care

New York’s budget provides vital funding to protect the most vulnerable patients and ensure working families have access to quality health care by restoring $1.3 billion to health care. In addition, the 2009-2010 budget begins permanent health care reimbursement reforms and investments that will lead to $1.6 billion in savings this year and billions more in future years.

“Families are faced with some of the toughest decisions they have had to make amidst this recession,” Russell said. “Maintaining adequate funding for healthcare will allow struggling families to ensure they and their children will be cared for.”

The budget restores millions of dollars to New York’s health care facilities by rejecting $332.6 million in executive cuts to hospitals and $195.6 million to nursing homes.

The budget restores $49.9 million to the Elderly Pharmaceutical Insurance Coverage (EPIC) program, which is designed to lower prescription drug costs for seniors with fixed incomes, and restores $2.8 million to the Medicaid program to restore coverage for drugs denied by Medicare Part D. This “wrap around” coverage is essential in ensuring that EPIC beneficiaries do not leave the pharmacy without their needed drugs.

In order to ensure infants and toddlers with disabilities or developmental delays receive needed services and treatments, the budget rejects all executive changes to the Early Intervention Program (EIP) – including changes that would have exempted children with certain speech-only delays from participation and established parental and provider fees for participation.

“In these past months I have heard from numerous families and seniors who have said they would stop buying the medication they needed if some of these healthcare proposals were included in the final budget,” Russell said. “I carried their stories close to my heart and I fought to see these healthcare cuts restored.”

Fighting foreclosures and preserving affordable housing

The final budget rejects the executive’s proposed cuts to the Neighborhood Preservation and Rural Preservation programs, which provide support to citizen-led, not-for-profit housing and community-based organizations that create and preserve affordable housing opportunities in urban, suburban and rural areas throughout the state. The budget also restores vital funding to fight foreclosures and create more affordable housing. Additional provisions commit $25 million for foreclosure-prevention services to assist New Yorkers victimized by aggressive and deceptive lending practices.

“This economic downturn started when the housing bubble burst, so it is vital that we keep people in their homes with affordable housing options,” Russell said. “By shoring up our housing market and restoring critical public aid, we not only help low-income families throughout New York, but we invest in our economic future as well.”

Continuing support for Agriculture

The spending plan restores $3.2 million in funding to the NY Farm Viability Institute, an organization that works with farms throughout the state and provides grant funding to applied research and outreach education projects. That includes a restoration of $376,000 to the New York Center for Dairy Excellence, a Farm Viability Institute program established in 2006 to strengthen and unify the dairy industry in New York. With milk sales accounting for more than half of total agricultural receipts, dairy is New York’s leading agricultural product.

The budget restores $951,000 to the NY Wine and Grape Foundation, which serves to unify the state’s wine industry, from growers to winemakers to wholesalers to retailers. New York ranks third in the nation in grape production and second in wine production.

In addition the state budget directs significant funding from the Environmental Protection Fund in order to promote sustainable farming in New York, including:

  • $23 million for farmland protection;
  • $12.2 million for agricultural non-point pollution control efforts, an increase of $3.3 million over the executive’s budget proposal; and
  • $450,000 for agricultural waste management.

The budget also rejects a new $100 application fee for seed distributors and labelers.

“Agriculture is a $3.6 billion-dollar-a-year industry in New York. We know we need to make sacrifices when crafting this budget, but it would be unwise to cut agricultural programs off at the knees when farms and farmers are so critical to the health and success of our economy,” Russell said. “We need to support and protect agricultural programs as a means of bolstering our state’s economy.”