Capital Region schools await budget details
Districts uncertain about financial aid
CAPITOL Significant negotiations continued Monday on key elements of the tentative state budget deal, leaving schools and other groups still wondering if the spending bill would force teacher layoffs and higher local taxes.
No one seemed to think the tentative deal — praised by fiscal conservatives and cursed by advocates for the poor — was threatened, but the inches-thick budget bills hadn’t yet been written or printed. The Legislature must pass the bills by the end of Thursday to adopt the budget on time, as promised.
“There is still much work to be done,” said Senate Education Committee Chairman John Flanagan, a Long Island Republican, a day after Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders announced the deal.
For school districts, questions of whether to begin thousands of projected teacher layoffs will have to wait at least another day until aid is determined for each school district.
The package restores $272 million in school aid that Cuomo had proposed to cut.
State Division of Budget spokesman Morris Peters said legislators are still hammering out the language of the agreement.
Once that is finished, they will run the funding formula and the state Education Department will distribute the list of aid amounts to the Legislature. That process will not be completed until Wednesday or Thursday, he said.
Fonda-Fultonville Superintendent James Hoffman said if his district received additional funding in proportion to the amount that was restored, it would mean another $200,000, but he doesn’t know if that will be the case.
The key issue is how much aid is going to New York City and how much to the rest of the state.
“They’re kind of dancing around how much upstate is going to get,” he said.
The district is doing the best it can to avoid layoffs. Even an amount as small as $200,000 could mean keeping five teachers on staff, Hoffman said.
Shenendehowa Superintendent L. Oliver Robinson said in a statement he is optimistic but he is waiting for more details about what the aid restoration means for his district.
The tentative $132.5 billion state budget would reduce overall state spending by more than 2 percent and would address a $10 billion deficit without raising taxes or borrowing money.
Even with the restoration of $272 million in school aid, Cuomo’s proposal would cut $1.228 billion to schools.
Of the restored amount, $230 million will be general operating aid shared among the 700 school districts based on enrollment, poverty and other factors, with New York City and other high-needs districts getting larger shares.
Substantial cuts to public universities and health care would remain. Cuomo and the Senate’s Republican majority killed the Assembly’s proposed “millionaire’s tax” to ease the cuts.
But the health care industry that Cuomo so carefully cultivated to back his planned cuts to Medicaid reacted angrily to the budget’s lack of a proposed cap on medical malpractice settlements. The issue was a recommendation of Cuomo’s Medicaid Redesign Team, but was excluded in the tentative budget deal.
Hospitals and physicians sought the malpractice cap to save money and counter the losses in Medicaid aid under the rest of the team’s recommendations.
“We are angry, disgusted and feel betrayed by this unconscionable decision,” said Dr. Leah McCormack, president of the Medical Society of the State of New York. “This deal potentially decimates the already fragile New York health care system. Under these circumstances, the Medical Society no longer endorses the Governor’s Medicaid Redesign Plan.”
Anger was also clear from those who sought the millionaire’s tax to ease or eliminate cuts to schools, local governments and community social service programs.
While there wouldn’t be additional state income taxes, “school and municipal property tax increases this year will be substantial as state and federal funding decrease,” said Carole Krause of the upstate-based New York State Property Tax Reform Coalition.
“We elected this governor,” said Agnes Rivera of Community Voices Heard, a coalition of social service groups based in New York City. “But he’s acting like he’s been selected by his millionaire buddies.”
Cuomo’s team took “an unconventional approach that, while imperfect, gave us the best opportunity to keep the cuts as low as possible,” said William Van Slyke of Healthcare Association of New York that includes hospitals.
Others said the budget will set New York in a critical new direction after years of overspending and overtaxing.
“This budget agreement marks a dramatic reversal in the tax-and-spend habits of Albany that drove this state to the brink of fiscal disaster,” said Kathryn Wylde of the Partnership for New York City. “They have sent a clear message to employers that New York is open for business.”
Legislators declared victory Monday.
“After two years of chaos, we agreed on a budget that sets the state in a new direction,” said Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, whose Republican conference recaptured the majority in the November elections.
“We’re pleased with the restorations we were able to make along with the governor,” said Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a lower Manhattan Democrat.
The plan was on track to be adopted by the Legislature by the end of Thursday. The 2011-12 state fiscal year begins Friday. That’s as politically important for lawmakers after years of scandals and tax increases as it is for the first-term governor.
Veteran Democratic Assemblyman Keith Wright summed up the hope when he closed a work session with a paraphrase from the movie “Star Wars:“ “May the force be with us.”