April 15, 2024
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April 15, 2024
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Hochul’s State Budget Document Hits Record Spending

Governor Kathy Hochul kicked off February unveiling a $227 billion state budget, up $7 billion from this year’s budget. The spending plan includes a record amount of spending on education, mental health and housing.

Throughout the month of February, 13 public hearings with chairmen and members of the corresponding Assembly and Senate committees will hear from state agency commissioners and advocacy groups. All budget hearings are streamed live and can be accessed through nyassembly.gov. Just tap the camera icon on the upper right side of the screen.

At press time, on February 8, lawmakers were expecting to hear from education advocates, including state Education Commissioner Betty Rosa.

The budget proposed by Hochul “recommends $40.60 billion for the State Education Department, a decrease of $11.47 billion in funding from the current year enacted budget level,” according to state budget officials. “This net change primarily reflects a decrease in federal pandemic relief funds that were appropriated in last year’s enacted budget.”

The state Education Department employs 2,876 full-time equivalent workers, an increase of 189 full-time equivalent workers from the current year.

Senate Education Committee Chairwoman Shelley Mayer (D-Yonkers, Westchester County) told The Jewish Link that she predicted those testifying at the February 8 budget hearing would ask for more money.

“The commissioner of education has her own request for the department that is not always incorporated in the governor’s proposal,” Mayer said. “The Regents have made their own budget proposal, which is separate from the governor’s. Some things they asked for were included and some things they asked for were not included. I suspect she will have her own perspective.”

Schools are expected to receive $31.3 billion in total school aid for the school year 2023. In legislative parlance this is called an investment that represents a year-to-year increase of $2.1 billion or 7.1% compared to school year 2022, including a $1.6 billion foundation aid increase and a $467 million increase in all other school aid programs.

According to the state budget officials, foundation aid is the main education operating formula for school distribution. It is focused on allocating state funds equitably to all school districts, especially high-needs districts, based on student need, community wealth and regional cost differences. The executive budget provides a $1.6 billion or 8.1% increase in foundation aid, supporting the second year of the three-year phase-in of full funding of the current foundation aid formula and ensuring each school district receives a minimum year-to-year increase of 3%.

“The third year of the full funding in foundation aid will be $2.5 billion over last year because of the inflationary index in the formula,” Mayer said. “The money from all gambling—lottery, casinos, mobile sports betting—goes into the general fund and is part of the basis for the foundation aid funding. It’s not a separate pot. It comes in through the lottery and it goes to the general fund. At the end of the day the money goes to public and nonpublic schools for a whole variety of expenditures that the governor proposes or that we authorize.”

On the other side of the aisle, Senator Bill Weber (R-Montebello, Rockland County), a CPA by profession, told The Jewish Link: “We have reckless spending in Albany. A $13 billion budget shortfall is anticipated over the next five years. I remain concerned about this budget and future budgets because they are unsustainable. We see people leaving New York by the thousands every year for cheaper states that they can afford to retire in.”

“There is also money for capital expenditures for the nonpublic schools which includes some of the security measures that a number of the Jewish schools have asked for,” Mayer said. “STEM funding which doesn’t benefit the yeshivas but the Modern Orthodox schools and the Catholic schools and any number of nonpublic schools and allows them to hire expert teachers for STEM education in the high school. It’s a tremendous benefit to the Jewish day school community and the Catholic schools in allowing for greater excellence in STEM teaching. The governor increased that amount over last year very significantly.”

“We spend a lot of money and throwing money at something is never necessarily the issue unless we make sure these kids are being well-educated,” Weber said. “Hopefully we can get to the point where we have policies in places that really hold everyone accountable. The main issue is we all want well-educated kids and we all want our kids to get a good education.”

Hochul disagreed with Weber when questioned by The Jewish Link.

“I wouldn’t call it throwing money at it,” Hochul said. “This is in response to the settlement of the foundation aid lawsuit that has been going on for a very long time. Under that agreement we owe the foundation aid, $2.7 billion, which is basically a large part of the $3 billion increase. “That was meeting an obligation to fund particularly communities and schools. There is a lot of disparity in our education system depending on where you live when you have a system funded primarily by property taxes. We have made sure we invested properly. Money goes for mental health services. We have additional programs to help kids. I believe we have a role to play in offering more guidance in our priorities in how that money should be spent.”

Reactions from some Assembly Democrats were mixed, and many predicted tweaks will be made to the governor’s proposed budget.

“Saving the number of housing units across the state is critical. I wish she would put more energy into preservation and not just development,” said Assemblyman Harvey Epstein (D-East Village), who represents the East Side of Manhattan. “Preservation through good cause or the Housing Choice voucher program. There are some other misses there, but I’m glad to see what she did around basements in the city. I’m glad she’s putting resources into helping people with mental health issues. I think that’s critical. We need more long-term beds and more support for people with mental health issues. I’m disappointed in what she said about the charter cap issues.”

Assemblyman David Weprin (D-Holliswood, Queens) switched from being chairman of the Correction Committee to being at the helm of the Assembly Insurance Committee. The governor’s budget ignored the issue of flood insurance. Flooding hit Queens neighborhoods hard in the aftermath of a few hurricanes and tropical storms that ravaged the borough in recent years. Weprin wasn’t concerned that it was omitted from the spending plan. “It could just be a legislative issue. It doesn’t have to be a budget issue,” he said. “It may have a fiscal impact on insurance companies but not necessarily on the state or on the public.”

A proposal to hike SUNY tuition by 3% (a couple of hundreds of dollars a year, according to newly-minted SUNY Chancellor John King) is not sitting well with some lawmakers, even though 53% of SUNY students attend the 64 campuses without paying any tuition.

On February 27, King is expected to ask lawmakers for more money for SUNY because, he said, the return on investment is so high. King maintains that SUNY’s success is crucial to the success of the state’s economy.

“There’s going to be pushback on that,” Weprin, a SUNY alum, said. “I’m not sure that’s going to go through. That’s going to be an issue and [lifting the cap on] the charter schools will be an issue. I supported charter schools over the years but I also run with UFT [United Federation of Teachers] support. Personally, I don’t think that will be a budget-breaking situation. You still have the UFT strongly opposed to charter schools.”

Budget projections show the state will end the year with a surplus of $2.3 billion. Budget negotiations are expected to be completed by March and voting on the new spending plan could begin a few weeks later. The new fiscal year begins Saturday, April 1.

By Marc Gronich

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