Friday, March 28, 2014

Budget Rumors Suggest at Least One Victory

The big deal this past week was our advocacy around the education tax credit mentioned last blog. On Monday, we had a large press conference with representatives speaking from the League, NYCLU, unions, and education advocates.  See more on the issue and press conference, here, here, and here.  Our efforts on Monday brought visibility to this issue and bolstered Assembly Speaker Silver’s (who has never liked the bill) position on it in budget negotiations.  Now that this issue is more visible, we hope it has collapsed under its own revenue weight.   Although we have not yet seen the final budget bill, media is reporting that this tax credit is no longer in it - Thank you to all our members who called the Governor and the Assembly this week to fight for our public schools!

Our advocacy continues full blown on campaign finance reform and we feel strongly that this budget is our best opportunity to get it passed this session.   We hold out hope that our elected officials will do the right thing and put comprehensive reform in the budget.  As I write, we are waiting for a final budget agreement, which must be completed by midnight Friday to allow for printing and the 3-day bill aging period for an on time budget on Monday.  We anticipate the budget will be debated all day Monday. Legislators have already left Albany, so final negotiations are left, unsurprisingly, to four men in a room.

On Monday, look to your local cable stations for debate on the budget bill or stream here and here.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Budget, Budget, and More Budget

My absence here can be summed up with “Budget, budget, and more budget.”  It has been a busier budget season than typical for the League as campaign finance reform had been part of the budget negotiations.

Each house has come out with their one-house budget resolutions – a procedural step in budget negotiations in which each house lays out their budget priorities.  The Assembly kept campaign finance reform in its one-house, while the Senate was noncommittal on campaign finance reform in its.  Pre-kindergarten funding remains a major issue between both houses and the governor.  Neither house approved the governor’s tax freeze.

This past week, the general joint budget conference committee (otherwise known as the mother ship) met Monday with the usual political theater.  Joint conference subcommittees on various budget topics were held very quickly thereafter.  The various committees didn’t meet again until Thursday when each committee set “table targets,” meaning they set the dollar amount they think each part of the budget should get – for example, transportation has a table target of 9 million and the Thruway Authority got a table target of 26 million (both house asked for funding than what the executive budget proposal laid out because of the harsh winter weather and the need for infrastructure repair.  However, campaign finance reform was not mentioned in the public protection conference committee (the part of the budget where campaign finance reform appears), which set a table target of 19 million, dealing primarily with prison closure, indigent legal services, and domestic violence funding.  Education’s table target was set at 240 million, with the pre-k funding decision being bounced back to the mother ship (which means it is a major sticking point for the legislative leadership and will be decided behind closed doors with the governor and Senate and Assembly leaders).

Meanwhile, our legislative lobbying on the budget goes on.  We’ve seen several senate and assembly members on our legislative priority issue, campaign finance reform and have participated press conference on the issue with our good government partners.  In addition, an troubling issue the League has recently become aware of that has been a free standing bill (sponsored by Assemblymember Cusick in the Assembly and by Senator Godlen in the Senate) has now become part of the Senate’s budget resolution.  The Senate’s budget provision would provide tax credits to individuals, corporations, and partnerships that donate money to public schools, to privately operated charter schools and, through “education scholarships,” to students who attend schools that provide religious education.  Not only do many opponents see the bill has a thinly veiled voucher system, but it would remove millions of dollars from the state general fund in the form of tax credits at a time when the state has continuously failed to fund public schools at levels ordered by the Court of Appeals in litigation initiated by the Campaign for Fiscal Equity more than a decade ago.  Additionally, the proposal favors taxpayers who desire to support private and public schools of their choice, through a first-come, first-serve process with no restriction on geographic distribution or the target institution’s need.   It uses, at a minimum, $300 million of state revenue, which the League believes should instead be allocated through a democratic legislative process. Although it encourages additional resource allocation to students in PreK-12 education, it thwarts the Legislature’s collective decision-making as exercised through the budget negotiation process and transfers the power to target public tax dollars for education to individuals, corporations, and partnerships.  We are working vigorously to protect public education by defeating this initiative.

It is anticipated that budget negations will end sometime this coming week and that the budget will pass following a few late nights.  Given that it’s an election year, we can be assured that the budget will very likely be on time.