This week, I wanted to share with you my thoughts on a few different items of interest happening in Albany.
Energy Tax continues
The 2009 budget contained a new tax for utilities. This, in turn, was, unfortunately, passed down to ratepayers. The "Temporary State Energy Utility Service Conservation Assessment", or 18-A, was scheduled to sunset in March 2014. This year, the Governor's budget proposed to extend this tax for five more years until 2019. This tax costs taxpayers $500 million each year.
I was sorry to hear this proposal included. We need to end our unnecessary tax on businesses and residents, and lower the cost of energy here so we can be more competitive with other states when it comes to job creation. I don't believe we should balance the budget with more or continued taxes.
Gun Law to be Challenged
On January 29, the media reported that the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association has filed a notice that it plans to ask a judge to overturn the newly passed state gun law. The association's notice cites constitutional grounds: the Second Amendment (Right to Bear Arms) and Fifth Amendment (nor shall private property be taken). I voted against the bill in the Assembly. The gun law was rushed through for a vote. Legislators were given virtually no time to review the 40 pages, and the public was not given any time to comment. Further, I do not believe it improves public safety. Nor will it help prevent the recent spate of gun tragedies. Rather, it penalizes law-abiding gun owners. I'm pleased that the court challenge did commence.
Competitive Grants for School Aid?
Education aid is slated to increase for a total spending of $889 million. Some of the ideas proposed include creating a full-day pre-K program. However, there is not enough funding to provide this for all schools in the state so the Governor has proposed a competitive grant process, designed to target higher-need districts. Essentially, districts would compete for a total of $25 million in funding. The Governor also proposes to extend learning time, via competitive grant process. The grants are awarded based on the school district's need, student's need, and the district's proposal to target high-need students.
While extended learning time and full-day pre-k would presumably help children, I question this method of distributing school aid. I'm not alone. The New York State Association of Small City School Districts President Bill Lynch submitted testimony to the Joint Legislative Hearing on the Executive Budget for Elementary and Secondary Education last week. You can read his testimony here: http://www.scribd.com/doc/122856276/Fulton-school-Superintendent-William-Lynch-testimony-on-budget. Lynch is also the superintendent at Fulton City Schools.
The testimony reads: "It should be noted that these laudable programs, while promoting student achievement, involve considerable commitment of additional resources and thus highlight the main problem facing failing districts: chronic under-funding. Moreover, we are concerned that the State is adding new initiatives while not funding the general operating aid necessary to provide a sound basic education to the most vulnerable students across the state... Additionally, competitive grants are highly unpredictable and winning these grants often involves spending considerable time and resources by an already stretched school district. Many of our small city school districts lack the internal staffing capacity to compete for these grants."
Education aid is too important to be awarded in this fashion. Further, while the total amount of education aid is proposed to increase, we are still in need of an equitable state aid formula.
As budget talks are underway, I look forward to sharing more about our how our state tax dollars are managed in this space, and hope to hear from you as well.
If you have any questions or comments on this or any other state issue, or if you would like to be added to my mailing list or receive my newsletter, please contact my office. My office can be reached by mail at 200 North Second Street, Fulton, New York 13069, by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling (315) 598-5185. You also may find me, Assemblyman Barclay, on Facebook.