BRONXVILLE, N.Y. -- Bronxville Mayor Mary Marvin writes a column that is re-published by the Daily Voice.
This past week, Gov. Cuomo presented his proposed state budget for the Fiscal Year 2015-2016.
To be on time, the state Legislature must pass a budget by Tuesday, March 31. Heavy on infrastructure repairs combined with an ambitious social agenda, the $14.16 billion proposed budget stays below the two percent tax cap only by exempting infrastructure costs, something the governor and the state legislature refuse to allow local governments to do. Budget to budget, it is actually a 4.9 percent increase in state spending.
The number-one priority of the New York Conference of Mayors and Municipal Officials was to direct some of the $5.4 billion in windfall monies due to the various bank settlements back to the local governments to provide local property tax relief and assuage the crushing costs of state unfunded mandates.
The governor did not heed this advice, rather choosing to leave the aid to municipalities flat at $714.7 million statewide and retaining $850 million of the settlement monies unused in a reserve account. A lion's share of the settlement monies ($1.3 billion) will go to the Thruway Authority, allowing tolls to remain flat for the next fiscal year and toward the cost of the Tappan Zee Bridge.
As to the bridge allocation, critics posit, like any local construction project big or small, wouldn't it have made more sense to have financing actually in place before starting a project?
Much of the remaining capital spending is directed toward the economically beleaguered counties upstate:
- Seven upstate regions would compete for three $500 million economic development awards.
- The Syracuse State Fair grounds would see its largest infusion of investment ever in the form of a $50 million capital grant.
- $400 million is directed to hospitals, primarily all upstate, to help with capital projects.
- Oneida County would receive $300 million to create a health care delivery system.
- $40 million is allocated for improvements to the Port of Oswego and additional "intermodal" railroads in Syracuse and Binghamton.
- A Southern Tier Farm Initiative costing $30 million would be created to help landowners in the region maintain and develop farmland.
The proposal comes on the heels of the Cuomo administration's decision to ban hydro-fracking, which some citizens in the Southern Tier had hoped would revive the depressed economy.
Another major component of the proposed budget is directed toward the state public education system. School aid would increase by $1.1 billion, representing a 4.8 percent increase over the $22 billion allocated to school districts in the current budget.
However, the $1.1 billion is directly tied to legislative approval of the changes in teacher evaluation and tenure policy that the governor is advocating. The governor would transfer control of teacher evaluation from local school districts to a statewide system with outside observers.
Under the current evaluation system, less than 1% of the teachers statewide were found to be "ineffective," an almost unbelievable rating for any profession. The governor also proposes to require teachers to earn five straight years of high evaluation marks instead of the current three-year probationary period before receiving lifetime employment in the form of tenure.
Additional initiatives in the area of education include: *Taking chronically underperforming schools out of local control and placing them under the supervision of a state-appointed receiver.
*Expanding pre-K programs to "high-need" three-year-olds at a cost of $25 million. (There is no mention of giving New York City the authority to raise city personal income tax on the wealthy to fund universal pre-K.)
*Increasing the limit on the number of charter schools from 560 to 460 as well as increasing their funding. Speaker Silver has been a vocal opponent of this proposal, along with the New York State teachers' union.
Other initiatives of consequence in the governor's proposed budget include:
- Raising the minimum wage from $8.75 to $10.50 statewide and $11.50 in New York City.
- Decreasing the small-business tax rate from 6.5 percent to 2.5 percent, resulting in the lowest rate in one hundred years.
- Increasing the financial allocation to the Environmental Protection Fund to $172 million, representing a 28 percent increase since the 2011-12 budget.
- Giving district attorneys the latitude to release information about a grand jury's collective thinking when it declines to hand down an indictment of a police officer investigated over a fatality. All of the above initiatives were temporarily eclipsed by the indictment of Speaker Sheldon Silver just 24 hours after the unveiling of this budget.
In a blistering indictment of our state government as well as Silver, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said that Albany exhibits "a lack of transparency, lack of accountability, and lack of principle joined with an overabundance of greed, cronyism and self-dealing."
In a chilling admonition, he added, "No one is above the law -- no matter who you are, who you know, or how much money you have."
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