The Final 2015-16 State Budget

“The 2015-16 State Budget was billed as an ‘Opportunity Agenda’ and a ‘Families First’ initiative. The final agreement turned out to be neither. Far too much time was spent promoting ideologies rather than developing meaningful financial programs that help New Yorkers put food on the table.
 
Major budget initiatives were crafted through a process that insults the very principles of constituent representation and responsible governing. I am disappointed that leaders of the Legislature’s minority conferences were left out of the budget discussions, and that the budget process relied on secretive, last-minute deals – completely disregarding public discussion, input and feedback.
 
As with any statewide spending plan, there are measures that hit the mark and provide tangible benefits to New Yorkers. Unfortunately, there are many others that miss the target completely. I’m proud that the hard work of the Assembly Minority Conference resulted in a final state budget agreement that:

  • makes a substantial commitment to restoring school aid cuts by directing $603 million to the Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA);
  • increases available aid for community college by $100 per student;
  • augments the financial investment into New York’s farms with a $4.2 million increase for agricultural local assistance; and
  • exempts libraries from paying the cumbersome MTA payroll tax.

Regrettably, the budget was passed without addressing many pressing needs and serious policy concerns. In addition, there were flawed polices and political tactics that had no place in the final state budget:

  • We failed to address the root problem in our education system – flawed Common Core testing standards. New York students will take standardized tests in two weeks. The program must be delayed until the appropriate solutions are developed.
  • Tying the teacher evaluation system to school aid is a misguided, heavy-handed approach that insults education professionals.
  • The ethics reforms passed in the budget fall well short of the Assembly Minority-sponsored Public Officers Accountability Act, do not go far enough to change the culture of corruption, and contain too many loopholes.
  • No permanent tax relief was provided to the state’s middle class, however tax credits were given toward the purchase of luxury yachts.
  • New York remains among the nation’s worst for income taxes, property taxes, business climate and cost of living. Another budget has come and gone without a substantial commitment to easing the financial burdens that have hurt residents and businesses for too long – especially our small-business owners.
  • The budget relied on gimmick economic development programs that pick winners and losers, rather than sustainable policy changes and tax relief measures to promote job creation.
  • Once again, New York State has ignored the true driver of New York’s high property taxes – unfunded mandates on local governments.

Fortunately, enactment of the state budget does not signal the end of our work in Albany. It is incumbent upon us to revisit the missed opportunities and implement policies that address the true needs of everyday New Yorkers.

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