Assemblymember Rodneyse Bichotte Provides Update on State Budget Negotiations

Do we shut down the New York State Government? Or do we vote on criminal justice and education bills that will not help our children?

Albany - The constitution of New York State requires that the budget be passed by March 31st, with the new fiscal year beginning on April 1st. However, the state budget of $152 billion is now the latest it ever been under Governor Cuomo's leadership. The Assembly worked around the clock all last week and into the weekend and has not gone home.

We Must Raise The Age Right

There are several aspects of the negotiations that resulted in the Senate Majority walking away from the table. Perhaps the most contentious is the Raise the Age legislation. While the Assembly wants to join the 48 other states in the country to ensure that 16- and 17- year olds are not convicted and tried as adults (except in the most extreme cases) and have their cases start in the family court, the Senate Republicans and Governor Cuomo still want 16- and 17- year olds to start in the criminal court, even for non-violent crimes. Why? Jobs!

It has long been noted that prisons are economic drivers for many upstate districts, therefore those economies are dependent upon a steady stream of people to keep those prisons financially viable, however this is at the expense of young lives. The Assembly has argued that the family court would provide alternatives to incarceration and support services instead of having a child serve time in the prison with adults. In addition, the Senate Majority and the Governor want to hold on to language that would allow more latitude for keeping these children in criminal court, which could still result in many young people ending up in the criminal justice system.

Are the Senate Majority and Governor Cuomo really agreeing to raise the age? Or is this merely a smoke-and-mirror tactic to say that as a legislative body we raised the age? Also, why isn't the IDC even at the table bringing about reform as they said they would? We have fought long and hard, many years, to get this on the table and it is critical that we do this right the first time.

Mayor De Blasio recently announced the closure of Rikers Island. This is one step toward stopping our tax dollars from being spent on punishing and brutalizing children, who should really be receiving support. We remember Kalief Browder who was never charged with a crime and languished in jail for three years, two of which were in solitary confinement, for allegedly stealing a backpack. The Assembly says, "No more!"

Free tuition is "Free Tuition Light"

Lastly, the Governor is not proposing free tuition for SUNY and CUNY schools. What he is proposing is to raise tuition by $200 for students not receiving TAP, and by $50 for full-time students attending community colleges. In addition, according to a recent Newsday article, the Governor is forcing the four major SUNY universities to use money from their foundations - monies they raised - to now help cover the costs of the his proposal in order to significantly expand the state's tuition assistance plan across the state. Essentially, the Governor is levying a 10 percent assessment fee which will force the colleges' 501(c)3 foundations to liquidate funds to help pay for his scholarship fund. Although this assessment fee would only be for one year, there is concern that this could set a precedent. A letter signed by the presidents of four major SUNY colleges was sent to the Speakers of both houses and the Governor's Budget Director with their concerns. In regard to private colleges, they will be required to match Excelsior scholarship awards, but will not be able to raise tuition to offset that additional expense. This came very late in the negotiations creating additional pressure around passing the budget in a timely manner.

So why are we doing this? To fund private schools? Increase tuition on public schools? And force foundations to fund other students when we have a $152 billion budget that can help fund SUNY's and CUNY's operating budget? There is no consideration for the low-income students who cannot afford to buy books, and pay for childcare, and transportation. Tuition is just a small percentage of what it costs to go to college.

Education Foundation Aid

Another point of contention is funding for the Campaign for Fiscal Equity (CFE) through Foundation Aid. The lawsuit for CFE was filed and won ten years ago because it was found that many students were not receiving a sound and basic education. Despite the fact that the State of New York spends the most money per pupil in the entire country, $3.9 billion is still owed to New York City Public schools. This year the Governor has changed the foundation formula that is supposed to help fulfill the State's legal obligation to settle this debt. Instead of funding public schools he has proposed to increase the number of charter schools by lifting the cap, which is essentially pushing Donald Trump's agenda to privatize public school education.

"I am happy to see that our Speaker is standing firm on the issues that are a priority for us," said Assemblymember Rodneyse Bichotte. "We are dealing with serious issues whereby people's lives are hanging in the balance. In regard to Raising the Age, the science and the literature bears itself out that what is best for 16- and 17- year olds is an acknowledgement that these are, in fact, children and that they require support and not incarceration, especially with adults. Also, basic human rights like a right to a sound and basic education, which impacts one's ability and right to pursue a livelihood and earn a living, which impacts one's right to safe and secure housing are all intertwined, so we need to continue to stand firm."

Given that the fiscal year began on a Saturday, the Governor said that he would allow for a grace period through Sunday to vote on a budget. However, there really was no grace period. The Senate Majority left the Assembly Majority no choice as they walked away on Friday afternoon. It is with the Governor's assistance that we cannot have a steady and strong democratic majority because he has empowered the Senate Majority and the IDC to prevent progressive legislation from getting passed.

However, if there is no deal by the end of the weekend, the Governor said that he would propose an emergency budget extender that would run through May 21, which is also when the federal budget is due to be proposed.

At this point, there is no free tuition plan and a hallowed out raise the age plan. The Governor says he cares about children and families throughout the State, but his actions are not matching up with his promises.

Please call the Governor and tell him NO to watered down Raise the Age legislation, NO to high tuition costs and YES to fully fund our public schools.

For additional information, read the summary provided by City & State.