Magnarelli: Governor’s Final Budget Shortchanges Education – Again

January 20, 2006

The governor recently released the details of his final spending plan and I’m already troubled by his budget’s impact on our schools and colleges. Governor Pataki’s budget claims to lay a foundation for the state’s upcoming fiscal year, but all too often that foundation has been built on the shifting sands of his empty promises.

Indeed there are some good points in the governor’s budget, and I’m committed to building on them to achieve an on-time budget this year – working with the Senate and governor to reach a bipartisan compromise that is fair to Central New York.

A sound, basic education must be a priority

With this budget the governor makes it a perfect dozen – 12 consecutive budgets that shortchange our schools. This year, the governor actually claims to propose additional education funding – but the truth is that he doesn’t increase operating aid for local schools. Our local schools have fared slightly better than last year’s, but still not good enough to address their current needs. With the proposed operating aid:

  • Syracuse City School District is looking at about a 3.5 percent increase;
  • Westhill School District is looking at a 2.78 percent increase;
  • Baldwinsville School District is looking at a 2.35 percent increase;
  • West Genesee School District is looking at a 1.34 percent increase; and
  • Solvay School District is actually looking at a .77 percent cut in aid.

These minimal increases are not acceptable, as they still make Syracuse schools fall about $10 to $12 million short of what is needed. With the prices for heat, computers, classroom maintenance, and pensions all going up, the governor’s proposal does not keep up with the cost of living increase. That’s why our schools need more assistance from the state in funding our children’s educational needs.

Governor Pataki once again proposes to take funding away from schools – money that was promised in last year’s budget – by cutting services our schools are expecting reimbursement for, including special education, BOCES teacher programs and building aid. At the same time he’s slashing aid for public schools, the governor is providing capital aid for charter schools.

For the limited funds he does set aside in his budget, the governor fails to give any indication as to how he would distribute it – essentially saying “trust me.” Not only won’t the governor tell us which schools would get this money, again this year he gambles on our children’s education with funding based on risky video lottery terminals. On top of this, he has once again failed to provide a plan to comply with a court ruling requiring the state to meet its constitutional and moral obligation to provide a sound, basic education to all our children. It must be a priority.

The governor must not continue to ignore the proven ability of smaller class sizes, universal pre-K and full-day kindergarten to help our students achieve their full potential. Also, inexplicably, the governor fails to fully fund the state Comptroller auditors to effectively monitor school districts and better account for taxpayers’ money. Instead, his proposal is far less than what schools need to achieve higher academic standards.

No more obstacles to an affordable college education

Again this year, the governor proposes to cut tuition assistance (TAP) for some of our most vulnerable students. He proposes a $500 SUNY tuition hike – and compounds that with automatic tuition hikes each and every year thereafter. That means tuition for a student to attend SUNY would likely increase more than $1,000 over the next four years. The state should be providing community colleges with at least $50 million more in aid, but the governor only proposed $18.7 million – a shortfall of more than $31 million. Since the governor has been in office, he has proposed cutting state aid to higher education by more than $3 billion.

He would rather give tax cuts to the wealthiest New Yorkers than help keep a college degree affordable for students and working families. When it comes to preparing our children for the jobs of the 21st century, the governor gets an “F” and the comment on his report card should read “fails to show effort.”

We must do better than the governor’s proposal

The Assembly is committed to investing in our children’s future, even though the governor likes to take credit for the large school aid increases achieved during his tenure. It is the Legislature that has pushed for – and accomplished – these increases. Over the last 11 years, we have repeatedly rejected the governor’s shortsighted budget proposals, resulting in schools receiving $4.85 billion more than they would have received under his proposed budgets.

The governor can boast about his years in office and tout his latest budget proposal, but Central New Yorkers are left to face the reality – a legacy of wrong choices and lost opportunities. His latest – and last – budget submission continues that failed legacy. I have always stood up to the governor’s wrong choices and drastic budget cuts – this year will be no exception. The governor must work with the Legislature to invest in our schools, strengthen early education and help provide children with the tools they need to succeed.