On March 30th, the 2012-2013 New York state budget passed, making this year the second consecutive on-time budget under Governor Cuomo. Given the state’s long history of late budgets, and reported “dysfunction” – an on time budget is a significant accomplishment. In addition, The Assembly Majority ensured that this budget was much less damaging to basic programs than last years’. The state’s slowly improving fiscal situation as well as the deep cuts that were made last year both made it easier to balance the budget and with restraint increase spending for many programs this year.
This budget closed a multi-billion dollar deficit, but did little to mitigate the damage done by previous year’s expenditure reductions, especially to healthcare and education. More fundamentally, it failed to lay out a vision for how our state government will respond to the many challenges New Yorkers still face, particularly low income New Yorkers. According to Assemblywoman Clark “I supported all of the budget bills, because, they met a minimum standard of fiscal responsibility while providing support for critical programs.”
This budget has much in it that is good. It meets most of the basic metrics, it keeps the state running, and it is on time. Additionally, the total $20.4 billion school aid package, is up $805 million from 2011-2012 levels, and finally begins phasing in foundation aid. According to Assemblywoman Clark, “New York City schools will see an increase of $292 million, as compared to the $50 million increase last year”. This budget also provides an additional $31.3 million in support for community colleges across New York, and held SUNY and CUNY whole without cuts. The budget also increases aid to the Tuition Assistance Program (TAP).
Other highlights of the new 2012-2013 State Budget cited by Assemblywoman Clark include:
- HEOP received a restoration of $3.485 million, bringing total funding to $24.3 million;
- The Liberty Partnerships Program received $1.7 million in restored funding for total funding of $12.5 million;
- The Science and Technology Entry Program (STEP) received a $1.027 million funding restoration for $10.8 million in total funding;
- The Collegiate Science and Technology Entry Program (CSTEP) received a restoration of $778,000 for a total funding of $8.2 million.
- $770 million to provide full funding for the next phase of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) capital plan;
- Creation of the New York Gaming Commission, which will merge the State Division of the Lottery and the State Racing and Wagering;
- Revenue enhancer via a commitment to take a comprehensive, thoughtful approach to the possible expansion of casino gambling in the state;
- $30 million restoration to the New York’s Elderly Pharmaceutical Insurance Coverage (EPIC) program to help needy seniors afford expensive prescription drugs;
- $134 million for the Environmental Protection Fund (EPF), which provides resources for environmental projects throughout the state;
- $1.1 million for 25 new treatment beds for veterans through the State Office of Substance Abuse Services (OASAS);
- The Assembly Majority secured additional funding through the Federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, allowing for an increase of 5% in the public assistance grant effective July 1, 2012;
- The Budget provides $9 million for the continuation of mortgage foreclosure counseling services through Homes and Community Renewal, with additional services financed with proceeds of the National Mortgage Servicing Settlement Agreement. In addition, the Department of Financial Services will establish a new Foreclosure Relief Unit to provide counseling and mediation services to help New Yorkers stay in their homes;
- The Budget provides $14.3 million for 208 urban and rural community-based organizations that to help create additional home ownership opportunities and assist with the development and management of affordable rental housing;
- The Budget includes several reforms to the teacher disciplinary process. The reforms include allowing the State Education Department to set reasonable limits on the costs of teacher disciplinary hearings, disqualify hearing officers who fail to comply with statutory deadlines and allow the State make use of new technology to help reduce the cost of the hearing;
- Restored funding and protected Early Intervention funding
So what’s missing? Here are a few things that were on the table at various points in the budget process, but did not make the final deal:
- Creation of a Healthcare Exchange to provide a market for small businesses and the uninsured to purchase insurance at an affordable rate;
- An increase in the minimum wage rate;
- Full implementation of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity decision, to provide fair funding to New York City schools;
- Implementation of microstamping, a technology to track guns used in crimes;
- The budget included significant funding for the MTA, but relies heavily on borrowing, setting straphangers up for more fare increases in the near future to pay for debt service, not transit service;
- Funding to study the health and environmental impacts of hydraulic fracturing, necessary if we’re to safeguard New Yorkers from the dangers of this new drilling technique;
- A full state takeover of local Medicaid costs, which would significantly reduce pressure on local property taxes which are mandated by the state to increase no more than 2% annually;
The people of New York State deserve a responsible, prudent and on-time budget. In the face of economic adversity, the economy demands bold action. The burden of recovery must be shared by everyone in the state. The Assembly Majority has long fought to protect and secure services for working families, children and seniors. Still, we need to effectively allocate resources to address the needs of our entire state. For example, how many working families would benefit from an increase to the minimum wage? Perhaps next years budget will be able to build on what we accomplished this year and develop a budget that offers a vision for the future, and limits the harm caused by past budgets.