Nine days after the new fiscal year began, the New York Senate yesterday passed a $153 billion state budget. A few lawmakers in the Hudson Valley underscored important facets for their districts.
The budget contains a wide range of programs, from $2.5 billion for clean water initiatives to one of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s hallmark pieces — an estimated $163 million tuition-free pubic college program for middle-class students. The program will be available to families earning up to $125,000 a year. State Senator David Carlucci, an Independent Democrat, supports the program and responds to pushback from some private colleges and universities.
“I don’t believe that this will hurt private colleges,” Carlucci says. “This is an opportunity for all of our colleges to thrive because we also put in there aid to students that attend private universities.”
And he points to other education funding.
“Well, one of the most important things is the increase in over $1.1 billion in education aid,” Carlucci says. “That means specifically for the Ossining School District over $2.2 million in increased aid. And that’s a district that has increased in enrollment pretty dramatically compared to other districts in the area.”
The Ossining School District is in Westchester County.
“Some of the other key pieces of legislation in this budget is continuing the monitor in the East Ramapo School District as well as a fund, a dedicated fund, of $3 million to keep full-day kindergarten, programs like music and art, as well as an increase in foundation aid of about $1 million for East Ramapo as well. So these are really important for education. That’s, I think, the cornerstone of our budget.”
Dutchess County Republican Assemblyman Kieran Lalor is not a fan of free tuition for middle-class students for public colleges and universities.
“When something is free, that’s very much a misnomer,” Lalor says. “I think we’re going to devalue junior college. We’re going to hurt private schools, private colleges. We’re going to spend a lot of money.”
Lalor did praise a few items in the budget, including bringing ridesharing services to upstate New York and $55 million toward increasing income for direct care workers.
“Well, one that that we fought for and got and I’m happy about, on a short list of things I’m happy about, is more funding for direct care workers who care for the developmentally disabled and not-for-profits. And we have several of them in my district and around my district,” Lalor says. “And a lot of people who work there, they were, kind of, the direct care employees were caught in a situation where there pay is, they don’t work for the state, they work for these not-for-profits, but their pay is tied to Medicaid funding so they couldn’t get raises.”
And, he says, the agencies saw high turnover. Lalor also applauds the omission of a proposal that would have required vendors who sell less than $10,000 worth of goods a year via online platforms, like Etsy, to collect sales tax.
“Believe or not, that was the thing I got the most emails from during this budget cycle, I think about 250 emails from people who are, some of them make fine livings and they’re doing this on the side but some of them are doing this to survive and supplement their income and really pay their bills,” says Lalor. “And this added burden would have crushed them so I was happy that that stayed out of the budget.”
The budget includes $214 million dedicated to combat heroin and opioid addiction. Carlucci supports this but says more is needed.
“One of the programs that didn’t make it that I’ve been pushing is for recovery high schools for children that are suffering from an opioid or heroin addiction,” Carlucci says. “The heroin crisis has crippled our community. We lost more people to overdoses last year in Rockland County than we’ve ever lost before.”
And so he’ll take another tack.
“I’m writing stand-alone legislation to allow us to create these recovery high schools throughout New York state,” says Carlucci. “I’m going to be submitting that legislation as a stand-alone bill. And I’m hopeful that we’ll pass that because we’ve got to do everything we can. The sirens should be ringing.”
The budget, which extends the millionaires tax and implements previously approved middle-class tax cuts, also contains legislation to return the New York Racing Association to private control. And lawmakers reached a deal to gradually raise the age of criminal responsibility to 18.