After reviewing the Governor’s Executive Budget proposal released earlier today, I have serious concerns. While dealing with an estimated $4.4 billion budget gap will be a difficult challenge, the Governor’s call for making "tough choices" also requires them to be fair choices.
As the Chairman of the Senate Education Committee, I am disappointed and very troubled that the Governor by proposing to modify the much acclaimed foundation formula is reneging on the commitment he made to New York schools in last year’s budget. Last year we adopted a budget with a four year educational plan driven primarily by a foundation formula that was intended to allow school districts to have a fair, predictable and transparent way to manage their own budgets. The Governor has eliminated the proclaimed fairness, predictability and transparency from his education budget by immediately modifying that formula in a political attempt to drive more education dollars to New York City and he has, again, turned his back on rural and suburban schools.
Last year, the Governor proposed to save harmless, or "flat line", 44% of the State’s school districts (304 districts), at a 37% increase in foundation funding. We were able to reduce that number by more than 50%. Again, the Governor has chosen to renege on his commitment -- these schools are now slated to receive a 2% increase in the proposed budget. The Governor has claimed that his budget proposal contains no new taxes. The "flat-lined" schools had planned on that extra percentage point of funding. The Governor’s proposal would place the resulting shortfall on already overburdened real property taxpayers.
In my tenure as the Senate Education Chair, I am proud that no unfunded mandate has ever been reported from my committee. When the State places a mandate on schools but doesn’t provide the State funds to pay for it, taxpayers have to foot another bill. The Governor’s budget proposes to place the costs of preschool learning disability evaluations as well as some of the administrative costs back onto schools -- that’s a $46 million bill being shifted to State taxpayers. I guess the Governor’s "no new tax" pledge does not apply to local property taxes.
And the Governor has dropped another bomb on taxpayers. Even though middle class taxpayers were promised higher property tax rebate checks, the Governor has reneged on this promise too. While seniors will still receive a 40% increase in their enhanced rebate, the Governor is delaying the 17% increase for the Middle Class State Rebate program until next year. The Governor has been touting his new Property Tax Commission to study the issue and make recommendations. Welcome aboard Governor -- there’s another plan the Senate Republican Majority has already passed a number of times, with absolutely no response from the Democrat controlled Assembly.
While I support increased funding for higher education, the Governor is proposing a Higher Education Endowment to be funded by "unlocking the value of the State Lottery". I have reservations about mortgaging the State Lottery, especially if it jeopardizes lottery funding for elementary and secondary education.
With regard to health, while the Governor’s proposed budget has some ideas to consider, such as expanding the Child Health Plus program to allow more children access to needed health care and enhancing the Medicaid Inspector General’s funding to combat Medicaid fraud, it does so by cutting nursing home and pharmacy reimbursements and, with a proposed new funding formula, may cut hospital aid as well. According to the Governor, there will be an overall cut to nursing homes, but they will receive their payments in a timely fashion, meaning they will get less money, but at least they will get it sooner. I am sure the nursing homes, into whose care we entrust our elderly parents, will be thrilled.
I am certainly glad the Governor has recognized the need for an investment in our struggling upstate economy. But the Senate already has a multifaceted 10 point Upstate Now plan that we have passed a number of times but the Democrat controlled Assembly has, of course, ignored. As I have said before, plagiarism is the sincerest form of flattery. At least we now know the upstate economy is on the Governor’s radar.
We are all aware of the need for fiscal prudence in these challenging economic times. School districts and taxpayers are relying on the promises the Governor made last year, but it seems those promises were made with a wink and a nod. Is this what New York has come to? As I have said before, tough choices do have to be made, but they must be fair choices. I see nothing fair in the Governor’s broken promises.