State budget pokes hole in Staten Island non-profits' pockets

Andrew J Lanza

August 11, 2010

From the Staten Island Advance:

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- Staten Island non-profits will feel the crunch from a state budget that has done away with discretionary funding -- money usually set aside for individual legislators to distribute to organizations in their districts.

State Sen. Diane Savino (D-North Shore/Brooklyn) plans to tally the total amount of funds that will be cut from the Island -- she estimates the loss to be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. That money would have been allotted to help provide dozens of programs at schools, senior centers and hospitals.

"This is not a good-news budget, no matter how you look at it. Cutting $9.6 billion from $136 billion was not a pleasant process," Ms. Savino said.

State Sen. Diane Savino estimates that loss to Staten Island non-profits will run to the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Like many of her colleagues, Ms. Savino was upset that Democratic Gov. David Paterson vetoed separate education and health bills that would have restored some of that money.

The budget was passed along party lines in the Senate late Tuesday, with Democrats voting yes and Republicans voting no.

Many Island non-profit organizations have been counting on state and city money for operational costs, taking out bridge loans or borrowing against credit lines in order to continue functioning during Albany's four-month budget impasse. In the face of funds being frozen or cut out entirely, administrators are looking at a future of financial uncertainty.

"We've received slowed-down or, in some cases, no payments, and that's forced us to dip into a line of credit in order to make our payroll," said Dr. Joanne Gerenser, executive director of Eden II School for Autistic Children, a non-profit organization with multiple locations that provides classroom and vocational instruction, various forms of therapy, psychological, social and residential services, and parent training.

"At this point, I won't say that we're in imminent danger, but certainly there will be program cuts, which will inevitably lead to job cuts."

State Sen. Andrew Lanza (R-South Shore) said the budget will hurt every Island household with new taxes on small businesses and hospitals that will be passed along to consumers. Some GOP lawmakers estimated a family of four with an income of $80,000 would pay an additional $3,000 over the next year in taxes and fees.

The final spending plan also eliminates a sales tax exemption on clothing purchases of less than $110, effective Oct. 1, to raise an expected $330 million. But that is likely to send even more Islanders over the bridges to shop in New Jersey for the holidays.

"This really is an outrageous budget. What we should have done -- like many other states -- is hold the line on spending," Lanza said, noting that spending will increase by 2.4 percent -- about $1.7 billion -- over the previous budget.

The lame-duck governor says he'll still push lawmakers for a 4 percent property tax cap, which passed the Senate but appears to have little chance in the Assembly.

He also cast more doubt on the "framework" lawmakers said they'd agreed to Tuesday in respect of a landmark proposal to give some public universities more autonomy. The announcement of the non-binding guide for continued negotiations led at least one Democratic senator to flip his vote, finally allowing passage of the last budget bill.

There was some good news yesterday, however, with Congress set to pass a bill this week to send the state $2 billion in Medicaid and $607 million in education funding. The money would stave off a worst-case scenario of 7,100 teaching positions eliminated and deeper cuts to city agencies.