Governor Cuomo and state lawmakers are coming down the homestretch in the budget negotiations for the fiscal year starting April 1st. The budget negotiations have, so far, been typical in some ways and highly contentious in others.
The process has been typical in the way that virtually all decisions are being hammered out behind closed doors, with only an occasional public glimpse obtained during sham public joint conference “meetings.”
The substance of the budget has been contentious – at least in some areas. For example, the debate over the so-called New York DREAM Act has been marred by extreme political posturing.
The New York DREAM Act would allow college students who are not legal residents of the state to be eligible for awards if they meet certain qualifications. The student must have either: (1) attended and graduated from New York high school; or (2) otherwise be eligible for a State University of New York (SUNY), the City University of New York (CUNY) or one of the state’s community colleges.
These students will also be required to file an affidavit with the college that he or she has filed an application to legalize his or her immigration status.
New York State already allows these students to qualify for in-state public college tuition, assuming that they otherwise qualify for college. This provision was signed into law by former Governor Pataki.
In short, the New York DREAM Act allows students who are undocumented immigrants and who already have been accepted to a public college and are paying in-state tuition, to be considered for college financial aid.
Yet in the poisonous politics of America today, such an idea is considered by some to be scandalous. The legislation passed in the Assembly along partisan lines and when it came up for a vote in the state Senate it was defeated with 30 Senators in support and 29 against. However, with open seats and absences, the bill failed to get the 32 votes needed for passage.
The fate of the plan now is a top issue in the budget. The Assembly advanced the DREAM Act in its budget and the governor has stated his support. But the Senate has said no.
Another key issue in the budget debate is campaign finance reform. The governor had proposed in his budget sweeping changes in the state’s campaign finance system: lower contribution limits, more expensive disclosures, enhanced enforcement, and a voluntary system of public financing.
The Assembly’s version of the budget established a system of public financing, but did little else. The Senate’s version of the budget did virtually nothing other than state that it was considering reforms.
The fates of both of these issues are now under consideration in the budget talks. Whether college students who are in families in which the parents are undocumented immigrants and whether New York State sets up a system of public financing make it into the final budget agreement hinges on whether the governor makes it a priority.
New York State vests enormous budgetary power in its executive. Governor Cuomo can force the legislature to adopt his budgetary plan. Whether that’s a good idea or not is for another day, but he has the power to make things happen in the budget.
Whether he is currently applying his extraordinary powers to reform Albany and help college students is unclear. As mentioned earlier, the budget talks are being held in secret. But with the budget deadline in one week, we’ll know then if the governor flexed his budgetary muscle on these proposals.
Blair Horner is the Legislative Director of the New York Public Interest Research Group.
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