Senator David J. Valesky (D-Oneida) and Assemblyman Paul D. Tonko (D – Amsterdam) today announced a bill to assist school districts with sky-rocketing energy costs. Under the proposal the state would use the expected budget surplus to create the "New York State School District Energy Cost Stabilization Fund." The fund would distribute $100 million over the next two fiscal years to school districts grappling with high transportation and heating costs.
"We cannot sit idly by as schools cancel class trips because of fuel prices, as principals ask students to wear coats to class because of higher heating bills, and as whole school districts are forced to skimp on our kids education because of skyrocketing energy costs," said Sen. Valesky. "This stabilization fund would provide real relief to school districts and stop the buck before it gets passed to local taxpayers next spring."
Energy prices have been on the rise all year. However, this growing problem became a crisis following the hurricanes that stuck the Gulf Coast.
"School districts are struggling to cope with skyrocketing gasoline and diesel prices at the pumps and this winter they will see double-digit price increases for heating fuels and electricity," said Assemblyman Tonko. "I look forward to working with Sen. Valesky to enact this important legislation, which will protect both cash-strapped local property taxpayers and the fiscal health of our schools."
Under the proposal, money would be distributed to school districts in the form of grants. These grants would be administered by the commissioner of education and distributed according to criteria, including the ability of district to absorb costs without hurting academic programs, the conservation steps being taken by the district, and the impact energy costs will have on property taxes.
Current estimates put the State's fiscal year budget surplus, which is due to higher than expected state revenues, at over $2 billion. Senator Valesky believes that some of this money should be used to address these unexpected education costs and to prevent yet another spike in school taxes.
"The increase in fuel costs to schools will have to be paid sooner or later -- so, it's not just how, but when," said Sen. Valesky. "I think we need to spare local taxpayers next year by tapping the surplus revenues that are expected this year."
The bill, S.5995/A.9078, is based on a proposal Sen. Valesky announced on the floor of the Senate during the September special session. When Assemblyman Tonko, who chairs the Assembly Energy Committee, heard about the proposal he approached Senator Valesky about carrying the bill in the Assembly. The bill was introduced late last week as a Uni-bill in both chambers.