The long drawn-out New York State budget process came to a close on April 10, when state lawmakers finally reached a deal on the $153.1 billion spending plan.
Nine days after the April 1 deadline passed, Governor Andrew Cuomo, the state assembly and state senate put the final pieces together that included a couple of initiatives getting nationwide attention. Most notably, the state will begin offering free college tuition to students of families that earn less than $100,000 per year and then by 2019 earn less than $125,000 per year. Dubbed the Excelsior Scholarship, it would cover just tuition and not room
and board and textbooks. Additionally, the free tuition would only be offered to full time students and available at public schools. Once a student that uses the scholarship graduates, they must remain in New York for four years.
State lawmakers also agreed to remove most 16- and 17-year-olds from criminal court. The new law sends 16- and 17-year- olds charged with a misdemeanor to Family Court and non-violent felonies would be sent to the youth part of criminal court. But violent felonies like a murder, rape and arson, regardless of age, would remain in criminal court. It was called by advocates, “Raise the Age.”
Other details in the budget include making ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft legal in the entire state, extending the millionaire’s tax, and putting $200 million toward the fight against drug addiction.
Local state lawmakers mostly reacted positively to the budget approval however contentious it might have been.
State Senator Sue Serino, a Republican, said Cuomo’s free college education plan keeps students in New York after
graduation, a provision she fought for. “The provision will ensure that we see a direct return on our investment and slow our state’s ‘brain-drain’ by incentivizing highly educated students to set roots here, and actually contribute to our local communities,” Serino said.
As for “Raise the Age”, Serino said violent criminals won’t get a free pass, but the criminal justice system now gives young people a chance to reform their lives. She also highlighted tax cuts remain in place for the middle class and and reduce costs on businesses.
Serino’s office also noted the budget offers foundation aid for schools at record levels, a strong investment in infrastructure, and a commitment to combat Lyme disease and drug addiction.
“While no budget is perfect, in this regard, this year’s budget delivers,” Serino said.
State Senator Terrence Murphy, a Republican, said while he’s disappointed the budget wasn’t on time, it delivers several critical points that will help New Yorkers.
He said the budget takes major steps toward making college more affordable in the state. Stressing college affordability is at a crisis level, the provisions agreed on would help more young people obtain a college degree. He noted students that receive free tuition must meet certain GPA standards and live in New York for four years after graduation.
“This plan will significantly expand financial assistance opportunities to more middle class families all while making sure our students have some skin in the game and fulfill certain obligations to remain compliant,” Murphy stated.
Murphy also hailed record funding for drug addiction prevention, top level funding for clean water initiatives, and increased funds in education, with each school district in the 40th senate district getting more money in foundation aid.
“No budget is perfect, especially New York’s,” Murphy said. “The process we have endured over the past few weeks was unacceptable mostly due to the insertion of public policy into a budgetary process. Ultimately, the end result does advance a number of important initiatives.”
Assemblyman Kevin Byrne, who experienced his first budget season since being elected, called the process “extremely frustrating.” Similar to his predecessor–ex-assemblyman Steve Katz–Byrne decried the budget process. The Republican said lawmakers vote in piecemeal that doesn’t allow them to make informed decisions. He said the current status quo is ineffective and is the reason for dysfunction in Albany. Policy decisions, like “Raise the Age,” should not be included in budget deliberations, he said.
But unlike Katz, Byrne found several positives from the budget, including statewide ridesharing, more infrastructure funds, increased education money, new workers compensation reform, and continual funding in the fight against the drug scourge.
“(The budget) still lacked many of the reforms our state needs to get back on track,” Byrne said. “Unfortunately, the state budget continues down a trajectory that supports over-spending, back-door borrowing, high taxes, new regulations, as well as more unfunded mandates on local governments.”
Despite the long wait, Assemblywoman Sandy Galef, a Democrat, said the final product was good.
Galef said she was pleased with the foundation aid for local school systems with the formula based on enrollment, disabled students needs, and community income. Overall, foundation aid toward schools was about 700 million, which Galef called a record increase.
Galef said possible federal cutbacks toward the state concern her. If less money comes in for either health, Medicaid, education, or transportation, the state might need to readjust the budget to fill in those gaps, she said.
As for the new free tuition program, Galef cautioned the title sounds a bit better than what it really accomplishes. While it helps students, Galef said costs like textbooks and room and board aren’t covered. She said it would enable more students to go to college or have less of a loan to pay off. The state should monitor the affect the tuition program has on private universities, Galef said. She said the requirement that makes students stay in the state for four years after graduation prevents people from taking advantage of the program without contributing to the state.
“I hope in the long run over many years we can grow the program,” Galef said.
She lauded raising the age for a teenager to be placed in criminal court.
“These are not kids that have committed a murder or anything like that,” Galef said.