Albany – During a second day of hearings before members of the Assembly Ways and Means Committee Nov. 14, a number of speakers representing environmental and education groups testified the slate of budget cuts suggested by Gov. Paterson would do deep and lasting harm.
Rather than cut $2 billion in spending as the Governor has proposed, several speakers asked the Committee to first exhaust all sources of revenue. Passing the “Bigger, Better Bottle Bill” which could raise over $200 million while protecting the environment was mentioned by several.
Studies have shown that over $140 million in deposits are now paid on beverage containers but are not collected by the state. Expanding deposits to cover bottled water and other beverages that became popular since the original bill passed could increase that amount to about $218 million.
Laura Haight, a NYPIRG senior environmental associate, said it would be indefensible to cut human services programs while allowing soft drink companies to keep these millions.
Alison Jenkins, fiscal policy advisor for Environmental Advocates of New York, also said the state is foregoing over $200 million in revenue by leaving the current law in place.
While the Assembly has repeatedly passed legislation to expand the Bottle Bill, the Senate did not support these plans. Legislation to expand the original Bottle Bill, which was exacted in 1982, passed the Assembly in 2008 but died in the Senate two months later and without a vote.
“The Bigger Better Bottle Bill is a logical expansion of the proven success of the bottle deposit program New York State already has in place,” Jenkins testified.
As was said during Thursday’s hearing, representatives of teachers’ unions and other educators testified that cutting school aid mid-year would cause damage that could take years to undo.
“Mid-year cuts are a disaster. With half the year gone, their effect is double,” said United Federation of Teachers Vice president for High Schools Leo Casey. “Mid-year cuts do the greatest harm in schools with the stiffest challenge and the greatest need.”
Steve Allinger, director of legislation for New York State United Teachers, said cutting aid in the middle of a budget year would not give schools time to cope with changing circumstances.
“To have mid-year cuts would be an unmitigated disaster,” Allinger testified. In 1991, he said, similar cuts were tried and resulted in nearly immediate layoff notices being mailed to 3,500 teachers in New York City alone. Similar unintended results would follow the 2008 cuts, he said.
“It was the wrong prescription then; it is the wrong prescription now,” Allinger said. Like others, he suggested a special tax assessment on New York’s top earners during the crisis.