Center on Friday, March 23. Public budget negotiations stalled two days ago, when the Assembly’s Democratic Leadership stopped attending the meetings.
“I would welcome the Assembly’s leadership to a public dialogue on the budget. Taxpayers deserve public budget conference committees; it’s a matter of principle that shouldn’t be compromised on,” Bonacic said. In the absence of those negotiations, Bonacic has been meeting directly with the Governor and his top aides to discuss the status of the budget and to express concerns about the budget process.
“Governor Spitzer’s budget was 99% on-target; his instincts are correct. What we need to be doing now are public budget meetings between Senate, Assembly, and Governor to bring this to conclusion. There is a sense of urgency to get this done, but urgency without results or with the wrong results is unacceptable,” Bonacic said.
The Senator said his discussions with the Governor and his senior staff have been productive and are moving the budget closer to where it needs to be. Bonacic said the $1.1 million cut Catskill Regional Medical Center was originally facing under the Governor’s budget would have seriously impacted the facility. “Thankfully the Governor is taking a second look at the issues raised by his original budget. I appreciate his willingness to focus on the issues at hand and find common ground,” Bonacic said.
The Senator added to the hospital employees at CRMC, “My message is: The Governor is not the enemy on healthcare. The enemy is the waste, fraud, and excessive spending in some of the larger hospitals which have effectively tainted all hospitals. The Governor’s knife may have been too large initially, but I am here to tell you he is listening and we are working together to revise those budget numbers, because we recognize what you do in this hospital is important.”
The Spitzer budget plan was overall positive for our region. Education funding
has been a contentious issue since a Court Ruling which ordered a $5.6 billion investment into City of New York Schools. The Senate, including Bonacic, had rejected those efforts, insisting instead on a statewide solution to increase education aid – not just a plan to increase aid to the City. Ultimately the Court of Appeals struck down the $5.6 billion figure and inserted a more manageable $1.93 billion addition to City school spending.
“We need to find common ground with the Governor. I found his numbers to be more than reasonable and distributed in a reasonable way as well. I have urged the Senate recognize that as we move toward a final budget agreement.”
The Senate last year passed legislation Bonacic co-authored which would allow for a five year phase out of the property tax homeowners pay to operate local school districts. The Assembly took no action on the legislation, offered no alternative, and refused to participate in a task force to develop an alternative to the property tax.
Governor Spitzer proposed an expansion of the STAR program. The Senate Republican Majority, after the Assembly refused to address a permanent solution to property taxes, proposed direct rebate checks averaging $360 for homeowners in Sullivan County ($596 for those seniors who earn less than $60,000); $312 ($520 for seniors who earn less than $60,000) in Ulster County; and $399 ($674 for seniors who earn less than $60,000) in Orange County.
“I prefer the Senate’s first plan – changing the way education is funded – period. The tax rebate plan is a back-up plan. STAR has not done what it was advertised to do –provide property tax relief. Property taxes are higher than ever. Expanding STAR is not the solution to the property tax crisis. I urge him to encourage the Assembly’s leadership to work with the Senate to find a permanent solution to the property tax crisis. Ending the property tax would require substantive leadership, and the Governor is clearly a substantive leader,” Senator Bonacic said.
OTHER KEY ISSUES: AGRICULTURE, ENVIRONMENTAL CONSERATION, & FLOOD CONTROL
The Senate budget plan provides $60 million to help dairy farmers who are facing historic low milk prices. Bonacic proposed that aid as part of the budget. With respect to the Environmental Protection fund, we are working to direct more resources to farmland preservation and parks in the Catskills. The Senate also provides $10 million in relief to local governments impacted by the 2006 floods.