Thu, Apr 10, 2008
Budget boost in school aid helps ease Mayor Bloomberg's pain on congest flop
By Joe Mahoney, NY Daily News
ALBANY - Two days after killing his congestion- pricing plan, the Legislature passed a $122 billion state budget Wednesday giving Mayor Bloomberg most of the cash he wanted.
The fiscal blueprint increases state spending by 4.9%, avoids any broad-based tax hikes and increases school aid by a record $1.8 billion, including $643 million for city classrooms. Final approval came nine days late.
Except for a "few glaring exceptions," Bloomberg pronounced the budget agreed to by Gov. Paterson "good news for our city."
Referring to setbacks on congestion pricing and teacher tenure, the mayor said, "This budget will help our city continue moving forward, even though we have taken some big steps backward this week."
The higher spending was agreed to even though Paterson says he plans to carve spending up to 10% - as much as $12 billion - in the next budget for the year starting in April 2009, when the state expects a $4 billion gap.
With an economic downturn threatening to worsen, state Controller Thomas DiNapoli warned, "Albany should keep an eraser handy."
Paterson, who has been governor only 23 days, apologized for the secrecy of the budget negotiations, saying the process was "not nearly as transparent as it should have been."
That lawmakers, in trying to craft a budget amid a recession, could channel so much money to schools was trumpeted by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver as "amazing."
"I'm confident that this is a sound budget," declared Silver, who had unsuccessfully pushed for a state income tax surcharge on those earning $1 million or more as a way to fund transportation projects.
Bonanza for classrooms
The budget was particularly generous to public education, sending $21.3 billion to classrooms across the state.
Schools advocates with the Keep the Promises coalition, which had been poised to pounce on any cuts, cheered both the level of funding in the state budget and the way those dollars can be spent.
"We won!" gushed Geri Palast of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, which proved in a 13-year lawsuit that the state shortchanged city schools. "We have kept that promise to New York City."
Schools activists prevailed over Bloomberg and schools Chancellor Joel Klein on how $533 million in new aid can be spent.
The city had wanted no strings. But the funds must be dedicated to struggling schools for such aims as class-size reduction and full-day prekindergarten.
Public colleges spared
The city and state university systems fared well, with lawmakers restoring a 2.5% cut in operating aid that former Gov. Eliot Spitzer had sought.
The budget also sends $207 million more to CUNY community colleges.
Further, tuition at SUNY and CUNY will remain unchanged in the year ahead. Assembly Higher Education Committee Chairman Deborah Glick (D-Manhattan) said the final product ensures public colleges "are both accessible and affordable."
Taxes and fees
The spending plan includes about $1.5 billion in revenue hikes, a mix of taxes and fees, most of which are narrowly focused on corporations by closing loopholes in tax laws to raise $430 million.
Another new grab by the state involves about $70 million in assessments on health care policies that experts said will likely be passed along to consumers in the form of higher premiums.
With Erin Einhorn
Parents from across the state march on the Capitol in Albany to show support for CFE.
CFE v. State of New York
In 2006, after 13 years in the Courts, the New York State Court of Appeals affirmed the right of every public school student in New York to the opportunity for a sound basic education and the stateâ€™s responsibility to adequately fund this right, but deferred to the Governor and the Legislature to determine the appropriate amount. more >