This year’s budget was a several week endeavor. For the first time since Governor Andrew Cuomo was elected, the budget was 9 days late. The legislature had to pass one extender to keep the government working for 9 days until the legislature came back and spent Palm Sunday weekend finishing the budget.
The Assembly spent 8 hours on Saturday debating and passing the budget legislation. The Senate returned at 5:30 pm on Sunday and debated for 6 hours on the agreed to budget. The $153.1 billion budget included many progressive legislative proposals. The most debated issue this year was whether or not to raise the age of criminal responsibility from 16 to 18. This proposal dominated both the Assembly and Senate debate over the weekend. The Assembly debated this issue for most of their 8 hour debate. Surprisingly, the Assembly debate was not acrimonious; the vast majority of legislators were in agreement that this issue’s time had come and New York did not want to be associated with being the last state in the nation to have not raised the age of criminal responsibility to 18. The final the program is incremental in implementation and gives flexibility for which court will try teens based on the crimes they committees. Violent crimes involving a weapon, crimes that inflicted physical injury on victims, and crimes involving sexual violence will all be heard in traditional criminal court.
The other visible issue in this year’s budget was the governor’s proposal to allow for free college for SUNY and CUNY to students. The final proposal included a number of provisions that the Governor had not initially agreed to. Private schools were also included in the proposal but with the state only paying up to $3,000 and only if the college agreed to match that money. SUNY and CUNY students can receive up to $5,500 per semester. To qualify students must have a household income below $100,000 for the next four years; the qualifying amount will be raised to $125,000 by 2020. Students must also take a certain number of credits, maintain a GPA specified by the school, and they must work in New York State for 4 to 5 years post-graduation. Students who do not work in the state will have to repay their grant. This policy does not include room and board for schools or books.
The budget also included Upstate Ridesharing. The new policy comes with a hefty sales tax, mandatory background checks for all drivers, and a $1.5 million insurance policy for all drivers.
The Governor said this was the most difficult budget he had to negotiate because of his concerns over potential budget deficits from Washington. A major sticking point in this budget negotiation was the Governor’s insistence that his budget division be given unilateral authority if there are federal budget cuts. The legislature agreed to give the Governor authority to put out his own proposal but only if the Assembly and Senate have the option to pass their own version within 90 days of the release. If the legislature does not act the Governor’s proposal would stand.
This year’s education budget was a tug of war between public schools and charter schools. The League had advocated strongly for an increase in foundation aid. The resulting budget allocated $700 million for Foundation Aid, which is funding for both rural and urban high needs school districts. Total education aid was $1.1 billion. The charter school cap remains intact but charter aid was unfrozen for this year. There was also a $500 per student increase in tuition aid and a $500 increase in charter’s capital aid reimbursable by the state. The state took this over so it wouldn’t be such a large toll on local districts. STAR rebate checks will also continue.
Another issue the League lobbied during this budget session was a $2.5 billion for water infrastructure which will be used to rebuild and replace aging water infrastructure. This investment will be used by localities and local governments to help pay for clean drinking water projects and new infrastructure upgrades as well as water testing.
One issue area that was completely absent from budget negotiations was voting reforms. The League had lobbied legislators leading up to the release of the one-house budgets to include voting reforms in their budget packages. Although the Governor and Assembly had included early voting and automatic voter registration in their respective budget proposals, the Senate had not even toyed with the idea of including voting. As soon as negotiations began, both the legislature and Governor were silent on the issue of voting reform. We are truly shocked that the two houses and Governor were able to compromise on so many policies but NOT voting. You can read our full statement on our budget disappointment here.
The legislature remains on break until April 24th. The League will host its annual Lobby Day April 25th and we plan to hit the ground running and screaming about voting reforms! The time is now to bring New York’s antiquated voting system into the 21st century!