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State houses present plans; on-time agreement expected

— The New York State Senate and Assembly presented their one-house budget proposals last week, and both have sent representatives to committee to negotiate with Gov. Andrew Cuomo in hopes of passing a satisfactory state financial plan by April 1.

Already, lawmakers in Albany have approved key aspects of the reform plan Cuomo presented on Jan. 17, including a new Tier VI pension plan, new teacher evaluations and expanded gaming and casinos.

Now that both houses have passed their proposals, each has sent representatives to the budget committee to sit down and hammer out a final budget.

“They’re broken into committees and we try to reconcile the two budget proposals,” said Sen. John DeFrancisco (R-Syracuse), who chairs the Senate Finance Committee. “At the same time, we’re negotiating with the governor and trying to see what he can agree to.”

The governor’s spending plan amounted to $132.5 billion for the fiscal year that begins April 1, 2012. Meanwhile, the Senate’s proposal is just under $132.5 billion, and the Assembly’s is $132.7 billion.

While there are numerous differences between the one-house proposals themselves and between the proposals and the executive budget presented in January, the most noteworthy deal with school aid and Medicaid, along with a couple of other projects.

School aid

In a highly controversial move, Cuomo added $200 million to a fund for competitive grants he created last year. Superintendents across the state have criticized the governor and asked that he return that money to the general school aid fund so that it can be divided between the state’s school districts. Both one-house budgets have heeded that call.

“Most districts have been hit so hard the last couple of years,” DeFrancisco said. “We want to redirect that $200 million into the school aid formula. We never spent the $50 million [that was set aside last year]. In the Senate’s proposal, we’re setting aside that $50 million and leaving it where it is. That’s a good idea, and we want to reward districts that are doing creative things. We’re trying to direct it toward low-wealth, high-needs districts.”

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