The Assembly Minority delegation representing Long Island is supporting a proposal that would restore Comprehensive Operating Aid (COA) to school districts throughout the state as a one-time retroactive restoration aid payment for the 2003-04 and 2004-05 school years.
COA helps school districts pay for general operating and maintenance costs.
The legislators maintain that the 2003-04 state budget should have included a save-harmless provision guaranteeing school districts would have received level funding rather than the actual COA reductions of between 2.25 percent and 6.3 percent. While the 2004-05 state budget increased COA for all districts by 1.75 percent, it still didn't restore COA to 2002-03 funding levels. That means school districts throughout Long Island are functioning on less operating aid today than they received for the 2002-03 school year. As a result, the two-year COA deficit for Long Island school districts is an estimated $90.6 million.
If this formula holds for the 2005-06 school year, Long Island school districts will lose another $37.2 million in COA, for a total of $127.8 million since 2003-04.
"This resolution provides school districts on Long Island with the restoration of funds taken from their state share of operating costs over the past two years," said Assemblyman Michael Fitzpatrick (R,C,I-Smithtown). "The cuts over the past two years have placed hardships on school districts and taxpayers. I support my Assembly Republican colleagues' efforts to restore the funds."
The Long Island Assembly minority delegation has introduced a resolution that would provide a one-time retroactive restoration that equals each school district's 2003-04 COA loss, thereby effectively invoking a save-harmless provision for that fiscal year. The resolution also calls for a one-time retroactive restoration of aid for the remaining COA deficit of 2004-05, thereby invoking a second save-harmless year for 2004-05. At a minimum, school districts would be guaranteed their 2002-03 COA funding levels for the 2005-06 school year.
"It' s imperative that this proposal is enacted this year," said Assemblyman James Conte (R,C-Huntington Station), the ranking minority member on the Assembly Education Committee. "According to the Long Island Index, Long Island has the highest tax burden among all the states compared, raising approximately $2,445 per resident in property taxes in 2002. New Jersey was next highest with a per capita levy of $1,872, or 23 percent lower than Long Island. The average for New York state is $1,402 per capita, or 43 percent lower than Long Island.
On average, 62.5 percent of property taxes on Long Island support the local school districts. This proposal would go a long way to ease the growth of property tax increases for all school districts on Long Island, thereby passing the savings onto the taxpayers."
If enacted, the resolution would guarantee $37.9 million in COA to Nassau County school districts and $89.9 million to Suffolk County school districts.
"My Long Island Assembly minority colleagues and I stand united in providing this additional aid to our school districts. Our restoration aid proposal restores the cuts from past budgets and prepares school districts for future considerations," said Assemblyman David G. McDonough (R,C,I-Merrick). "This should serve as a starting point in the negotiations for school aid in the 2005-06 state budget process."
"We as Long Island representatives will fight hard to institute this proposal which will benefit all of Long Island by ensuring our fair share of state aid to education, while at the same time helping to relieve the school tax burden on property owners," Assemblywoman Maureen O'Connell (R,C,I-East Williston) said.
"My priority has always been education. This plan would provide our schools with the resources they need to do their jobs, educating our young people. This restoration aid would allow school districts to do what they really want to do – provide tax relief for working families and seniors," added Assemblyman Thomas Alfano (R,I,C,WF-21st District).
"Before a new school aid formula is devised under this year's state budget process or in response to the Campaign for Fiscal Equity court decision, it is imperative that the reductions from the 2003 state budget are restored to local school districts and provide an equitable base for COA," Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr. (R,I,WF-Sag Harbor) said.
"With property taxes increasing at record rates and operating aid declining over the past two years, the time for such a comprehensive proposal has come. My colleagues and I remain unwavering in our commitment to providing much-needed state aid to Long Island schools. Before we address any school aid funding issues, the Legislature must approve this vital proposal to provide additional aid to schools and relief to taxpayers," remarked Assemblyman Bob Barra (R,C-14th Assembly District).
"Restoration aid should serve as the focal point for the ongoing budget negotiations when dealing with school aid," said Assemblyman Andrew Raia (R,C,I,WF-East Northport). "Long Islanders have been paying more in taxes than they receive in aid. It's time to take a step to rectify that problem by enacting restoration aid. This plan will allow school districts to alleviate the overwhelming burden placed on homeowners throughout Long Island because of increasing property taxes."
"I wholeheartedly support this resolution. School districts from Mattituck to Malverne would see significant increases in school aid. If we don't enact this resolution this year, the current deficits for school districts throughout Long Island will continue to grow by millions of dollars," noted Assemblywoman Patricia L. Acampora (R,I,C,WF-Mattituck).
"We must take the necessary steps to ensure that our school districts on Long Island receive their fair share of state monies," commented Assemblyman Joseph Saladino (R,C,I-Massapequa). "The residents of my Assembly district shouldn't have to tolerate shortfalls in operating aid while property taxes continue to escalate. This resolution brings us one step closer to securing our fair share of operating aid."