E-Mail Newsletter – March 16, 2015

The Assembly's one-house 2015-16 Budget Resolution was passed last week and budget negotiations with the Senate and Governor begin in earnest this week with the goal of passing a final bill by April 1st. Highlights from the Assembly version include:

Investing in economic development. The Assembly’s budget retains $1.5 billion in economic development funding for the Upstate Revitalization Initiative proposed by the Governor, along with $250 million in grants to local governments whose sewers and water mains are in need of repair or replacement.

Aid to localities. The Assembly budget proposal retains level funding of $715.1 million in Aid and Incentives for Municipalities (AIM). AIM funding helps ease the financial burden cities, towns and villages face, while ensuring essential services are provided to residents.

Protecting our environment. The Assembly budget proposal provides for a $10 million increase in funding for the Environmental Protection Fund – for a total of $182 million – and a 10-year extension of the Brownfield Cleanup program, which helps redevelop contaminated properties. It also includes an increase to the financing authorization for the Superfund Program – which helps clean up contaminated properties – by $1 billion over a 10-year period. Further, in response to the increased volume of crude oil being transported through New York State, the Assembly’s proposal strengthens the Oil Spill Fund and authorizes $2.1 million to be used for prevention and cleanup training.

Increasing funding for our schools. The Assembly’s budget proposal provides a total of $23.95 billion in education funding, an increase of $1.8 billion for the 2015-16 school year. That’s over $830 million more than the governor’s budget proposal and represents the largest increase in school aid since 2008-09. This $1.8 billion is comprised of $1 billion for Foundation Aid, and $456 million in restoration to the Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA), which is based in part on district and student need, growth in enrollment, growth in the number of students who are English-language learners and the disproportionate impact of GEA reductions.

The Assembly’s budget proposal would remove the governor’s requirement that increases in school aid be tied to his proposed changes to the teacher evaluation system, the takeover of failing schools, changes to charter schools – including an increased cap on charter schools – and changes to teacher preparation, certification, dismissal and tenure.

Raising the minimum wage. The Assembly’s budget proposal would increase the state minimum wage to $10.50 per hour starting Dec. 31, 2016, and increasing to $12.60 per hour beginning Dec. 31, 2018. The proposal would create a higher minimum wage for New York City, Westchester, Nassau and Suffolk counties of $12.50 per hour to begin Dec. 31, 2016, increasing to $15.00 per hour starting Dec. 31, 2018. The state tipped wage would increase to $7.50 per hour – $9.50 per hour for New York City, Westchester, Nassau and Suffolk county workers – beginning December 31, 2016. It would then increase again to $9.00 per hour – $11.40 per hour for New York City, Westchester, Nassau and Suffolk counties – by Dec. 31, 2018. Further, the state minimum wage would be indexed to the rate of inflation beginning in 2019.

Strengthening transportation systems. The Assembly budget proposal increases funding for upstate transit systems by $25 million for a total of $194 million and establishes a board to make recommendations to ensure growth and fiscal stability among these systems. Additionally, the proposal maintains the Consolidated Local Street and Highway Improvement Program (CHIPs) and the Marchiselli Highway Improvement Program and sets forth an additional $60 million for extreme weather recovery across the state. The proposal provides an extra $27 million to New York City for repairs to roads and bridges that have been damaged by extreme weather.

Making the DREAM Act a reality. The Assembly’s budget proposal includes the DREAM Act, which would allow children of immigrants the opportunity to apply for a variety of state tuition-assistance programs to help them realize the goal of a college education. The Assembly’s proposal rejects the governor’s attempt to link the DREAM Act to a new education tax credit to benefit private schools. The Assembly, however, drops the Governor's proposal to link the Act to passage of the Education Investment Tax Credit and drops the tax credit proposal completely from the resolution.

Investing in TAP, other college opportunity programs. To help more students afford college, the Assembly budget would increase the maximum possible TAP award by $150, bringing the total award to $5,315 per full-time equivalent (FTE) student. It would also increase both SUNY and CUNY community college base aid funding by $50 for a total of $2,547 per FTE student, which is significantly less than requested and one I will continue to advocate to increase.

Increase Library Aid. The Governor’s flat funding proposal for 2015-16 puts state library aid at $86.6 million is equivalent to 1997 funding and $16 million short of where it should be. I support an appropriation increase of $16 million in library aid that would bring funding for our public libraries in line with the statutory requirement.

Homeland Security College for UAlbany. I strongly supported the Assembly's retention of the Executive’s request for a $15 million for an exciting new Homeland Security College to be sited at UAlbany. I also support an additional $250,000 for the UAlbany Center for Excellence though this has yet to be included in the proposal - I will continue to advocate as we move forward.

Lowering taxes for homeowners and renters. The Assembly has long championed the implementation of a “circuit breaker” to provide families with much-needed property tax relief and the governor proposed a version this year. The plan would tie property taxes to household income for homeowners, instead of basing the taxes on property value, and would be the first time in recent years that property taxes are actually cut for those paying over 7% of their income in property taxes. The Assembly has again included the circuit breaker in this year’s budget proposal.

Increasing access to affordable child care. Based on the findings and recommendations from the Assembly's Child Care Workgroup, the Assembly budget proposal includes nearly $37 million to improve our child care system and ensure every family has access to the quality, affordable child care they deserve.

Protecting at-risk youth. The Assembly budget proposal makes restorations for development and prevention programs for at-risk youth, including:

+ Youth Development Program ($15.4 million);

+ Runaway and Homeless Youth Act ($5.6 million);

+ Safe Harbor ($5 million);

+ Community Reinvestment ($1.75 million);

+ Child Protective Caseload Reduction ($757,000);

+ Settlement Houses ($450,000); and

+ Center for Alternative Sentencing and Employment Services (CASES) ($200,000).

Preserving public health programs. A strong commitment to public health has long been a top priority for the Assembly. The 2015-16 budget plan restores $32.5 million for health programs, including:

+ A $21.4 million restoration for 39 discrete health programs that would have had their funding cut and been restructured into five grant pools;

+ $3.5 million for public health programs eliminated in the governor’s budget proposal, including $750,000 to support family planning services;

+ $3.3 million for the Enhancing the Quality of Adult Living (EQUAL) program to improve quality of care for residents of adult care facilities;

+ an additional $1.5 million for the Spinal Cord Injury Research Program to encourage innovative research into the treatment and cure of paralysis and damage caused by spinal cord injury; and

+ $500,000 for the prescription drug discount card to help offset the staggering cost of prescription medications.

The Assembly budget proposal also includes $1.2 million to save the New York State physician profile website, which allows New Yorkers to search for licensed doctors that fit their needs, as well as learn more about their current doctor.

Raising the age of juvenile jurisdiction. The Assembly budget modifies the governor’s proposal to raise the age of criminal responsibility and requires that all but those charged with serious felony offenses under the age of 18 be adjudicated in Family Court. These measures recognize the scientific advancements in understanding adolescent development and will provide more appropriate and effective treatment of young people charged with crimes, reduce incidents of re-offense and improve outcomes.

Preserving legal services. The Assembly budget would also invest in legal services that safeguard access to justice for at-risk populations. Legal services not only help low-income individuals, they also provide a significant economic benefit to New York State. Legal services are cost effective, resulting in a return of $6 in economic benefit to the state for every dollar invested in these services. The proposal includes the following:

+ $4 million in the Legal Services Assistance Fund, including $2.8 million for civil and criminal legal services grants and $1.2 million for Prisoners’ Legal Services;

+ $3.3 million in additional support in the Indigent Legal Services Fund;

+ $2.8 million for various targeted criminal justice programs;

+ $1 million for the New York State Defenders Association;

+ $1 million for Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grants;

+ $618,000 for alternative to incarceration programs;

+ $609,000 for domestic violence-related civil and criminal legal services support; and;

+ $600,000 for immigrant legal services.

Supporting our veterans. The Assembly budget proposal doubles Supplemental Burial Benefits for veterans for a total of $400,000. It also restores $100,000 for the Veterans Justice Project, which provides a broad range of civil legal services for veterans and their families, and $100,000 for SAGE Veterans’ Project, an organization that provides support and guidance to veterans impacted by the military’s policies regarding the LGBT community.

Supporting small businesses. In addition to reducing the income tax rate for small businesses from 6.5 percent to 2.5 percent for those that register as C Corps, the Assembly’s proposal restores $365,000 in additional funding for the Minority- and Women-owned Business Development and Lending Program, for a total of $1 million. The Assembly also supports increasing participation in state contracting to Minority- and Women-owned Business Enterprises (MWBEs) from 25 percent to 30 percent.

Investing in agriculture. The Assembly budget proposal restores funding to the following programs:

+ Farm Viability Institute: $1.1 million;

+ Agribusiness Child Development: $1 million;

+ NY Apple Growers Association: $544,000;

+ Cornell Veterinary “Core” Diagnostic Lab: $500,000;

+ NY Wine and Grape Foundation: $250,000;

+ Cornell University Rabies program: $200,000;

+ Maple Producers Association: $125,000;

+ Local fairs: $160,000;

+ Tractor Rollover Protection Program: $100,000; and

+ Farm Family Assistance (NY FarmNet): $100,000.

The proposal also accepts the governor’s $50 million plan to fund capital improvements to the state fairgrounds, and includes up to $5 million for infrastructure projects at county and local fairgrounds. Additionally, the Assembly budget includes $50 million to protect farmland in the Hudson Valley and develop agricultural initiatives in the Southern Tier.

In recent years, the Assembly has passed new laws to help revitalize agriculture in New York by promoting the beer, wine, cider and distilled spirits industries (Ch. 406 of 2014) and creating a license for farm cideries to expand cider-making opportunities (Ch. 384 of 2013). The Assembly’s budget support for the maple and apple industries has helped increase production and expand sales over the last few years.

Job Opportunities: New York State has setup a new job portal entitled Jobs Express, where thousands of private and public sector jobs are listed. Visit jobs.ny.gov for more information on how to apply for these opportunities.

As always, for the latest news or for upcoming events, please visit my office online, on Facebook, on Twitter, or my Times Union blog. If you would like to reach my office, please feel free to send us a note.

Sincerely ---