by Assembly Minority Leader Brian M. Kolb (R-Canandaigua)
As we enter the middle of March, Albany’s notoriously secretive budget negotiations will gain momentum during the coming weeks. The governor presented his $152.3 billion proposal in January. Now the Assembly and Senate majorities are poised to release their respective spending plans in the near future. If past years are any indication, all talks will take place behind closed doors, with little or no information on how billions of public dollars will be spent.
PROPOSALS THAT WORK FOR ALL NEW YORKERS
The budget process shouldn’t be a race for media headlines or political pandering. Building the state’s annual fiscal plan should maintain a sharp focus on the issues affecting the lives of everyday New Yorkers. As a long list of proposals are considered, here are the priority issues that must be addressed by the April 1 deadline:
- Take Care of Direct Care Workers – It is unconscionable that direct-care professionals have been forced to beg the governor for a living wage, but their calls must be answered soon. The men and women who care for people with disabilities were placed at a financial disadvantage by the governor’s decision to give fast-food workers a $15/hour minimum wage. Without help, the industry faces a workforce crisis it may not recover from, and our disability community will lose life-saving programs and services.
- Fix the STAR Program (Again) – The STAR Program started as an idea in the Assembly Minority and has become one of New York’s most reliable and effective ways to provide property-tax relief. Last year, Albany inexplicably changed the program for new homeowners from a tax exemption to a tax credit. The results have been disastrous. Instead of getting a tax break up front, individuals have been forced to wait for checks that have been delayed, inaccurate, or haven’t arrived at all. It’s time to go back to the original program.
- Make College Affordable for Everyone – The governor’s “free” college plan isn’t free at all, and targets only a fraction of New York’s total student population. Students and families struggling with college costs would receive much more help from the Assembly Minority’s plan. Our proposal modernizes the state’s Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) by increasing eligibility and grant awards; it offers a taxable income reduction on student loans; and it allows graduate students to receive tuition relief.
- Recognize that Local Roads Matter – With some of the oldest infrastructure in the nation, many localities face financial and logistical challenges maintaining their roads and bridges. Our families, communities and businesses need reliable highways and bridges. The final state budget must provide greater resources than what’s been proposed to the Consolidated Local Street & Highway Improvement Program (CHIPS).
- Reinforce a Commitment to Education – We must ensure our children have a first-class education and ample funding for our school districts. Today’s students are tomorrow’s CEOs, entrepreneurs and manufacturers. The final state budget should increase school aid over what the governor has proposed. The Foundation Aid formula must be predictable and updated to reflect the actual needs of school districts and to be certain that schools receive their fair share.
- Support Local Libraries – The governor is proposing to cut library funding by $4 million and capital funding by $5 million. Libraries have regularly been shortchanged in state budget proposals, despite their status as indispensable community resources. These cuts are unwarranted, and our Conference will fight to restore library funding as we prepare the upcoming budget.
- Reduce Property Taxes Through Mandate Relief – The governor believes New York’s property taxes are so high for two reasons: there are 10,000 local governments, and local officials are reluctant to find cost-cutting efficiencies. He’s wrong on both. Property taxes are driven almost exclusively by unfunded mandates. When a city, town or village is forced to spend money to implement a program required by Albany, costs are passed on in the form of property taxes. Reduce mandates and you will reduce property taxes.
New York must get back to investing in the hard-working taxpayers who drive its economy. For too long, the enacted budgets have danced around true reform and left many still searching for policies that make New York more affordable and relieve financial pressures that seem to mount each year. The Assembly Minority Conference will continue to fight for programs and policies aimed at improving New York from the ground up.