Last week, the New York State Legislature adopted a budget that reforms the education funding formula, reigns in Medicaid spending, enhances property tax rebates and supplies much needed relief for dairy farmers. Overall, it is a strong budget and yet another vital step on the road to a stronger economy.
For my entire tenure as a State Senator, I have spoken of the need for a better school funding formula. This budget includes historic changes in school funding, replacing an archaic and confusing formula driven by politics with an understandable "foundation formula" based on need and costs. This change, along with a $1.9 billion investment in education, translates into a budget that sends millions more to Central New York Schools, with a special focus on high-needs districts.
The 2007-’08 budget also includes major changes in health care spending. The focus on health care is for good reason. Health costs have become an overwhelming burden for families, for businesses and for government. Driving the cost of health care is Medicaid. In the past 15 years, Medicaid has risen from 14 percent of the state's general budget fund to 35 percent. This year’s budget finally begins to rein in Medicaid costs, reducing growth to just 1% -- down from the 8% average of the last 5 years. Yet, we do so without causing grave harm to the hospitals and nursing homes that supply so much of the care. With the savings, the state will now be able to accomplish other vital goals, like expanding health coverage to 400,000 uninsured children.
This budget also includes great news for homeowners across Central New York, with $1.3 billion in property tax rebates. This year’s rebates will not only total twice that of last year’s, but the funds will be steered toward middle class homeowners who are most in need of relief. This relief, combined with improved school aid, will reduce the pressure on property owners.
Finally, the budget will bring much needed relief for New York’s dairy industry. With last year’s abysmally low dairy prices still resonating through the agriculture industry, the legislature passed a budget that includes a program that will send $30 million to struggling dairy farmers. The new dairy assistance program will pay eligible farmers the difference between target prices set by the agriculture commissioner and the price paid due the combined milk order. Thanks to the program, a typical 150 cow dairy farm will see a cash award of about $7,500. The program is capped at $15,000 to ensure that resources are sent where they are most needed.
This year’s budget represents real progress for our state. Instead of a political school funding formula, we have a formula based on need and costs. Rather than Medicaid spending that hamstrings our other priorities, we have controlled spending and improved care for almost half a million children. And instead of out of control property taxes, we have rebates and school aid designed to reduce the burden on home owners.
I want to thank the thousands of constituents who took the time to write, call and e-mail me on these and numerous other budget issues. This input is extremely helpful to me as I represent the people of the 49th Senate District.