State budget would boost education funds by $1.1B
ALBANY -- With statewide elections looming, lawmakers have agreed to a state budget that will delay the Common Core program for students, expand prekindergarten and boost education spending by $1.1 billion, or 5 percent, for the 2014-15 fiscal year -- the most generous single-year increase in recent years.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and legislators said Saturday they signed off on a deal. Voting on the budget by rank-and-file legislators likely would begin Monday -- technically, the budget is supposed to be enacted by midnight that night to be considered "on time."
The budget would total $138 billion, a 2 percent increase over last year.
"It's a piece of work that the people of the state can be proud of," the governor declared in a media conference call Saturday.
With schools always a budget focus, state legislators added about $300 million more in state education aid than Cuomo proposed in January, after lengthy battles over related issues of charter schools, prekindergarten and discretionary spending funds, among other items.
"It's a very generous increase," the governor said.
The deal includes allocating $300 million to expand prekindergarten in New York City -- a signature issue of Mayor Bill de Blasio -- and $40 million to expand prekindergarten on Long Island and upstate.
The election-year budget offered an array of tax cuts and spending initiatives geared toward a broad audience.
One element dear to Cuomo was a property tax rebate to homeowners whose school districts and local governments keep property tax growth below the state's 2 percent cap and take steps to share services or consolidate with neighboring governments. Cuomo said the rebate would have the practical effect of "freezing" property taxes.
The governor called it his most important agenda item.
Lawmakers also acted on many key educational issues.
In the wake of vocal parents' protest, they agreed to delay the use of Common Core tests to evaluate students -- but not teachers. They increased per-pupil funding for charter schools and made them eligible for prekindergarten funding.
They cut corporate and estate taxes. The asset threshold will be raised in New York's estate tax so it wouldn't kick in until an estate is valued at $5 million, rather than the current $1 million. Businesses would get income, property and utility tax relief.
Senate co-leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) said in a statement that the bipartisan budget "delivers additional property tax relief to hardworking taxpayers, reduces costs for businesses so they can create new jobs and gives students the tools they need to receive a first-class education."
They implemented a limited public campaign-financing experiment by using taxpayers' money only for the 2014 state comptroller's office. They also beefed up the state Board of Elections and effectively decommissioned Cuomo's "Moreland Commission" that was investigating legislators' compliance with campaign finance laws.
In exchange, Cuomo gets to appoint a new investigator for election law and campaign finance regulation. The investigator also will be a fifth vote on the Board of Elections, which is evenly divided by party and often fails to agree to take action on cases against politicians.
The budget came under harsh criticism from the left. Activists bashed Cuomo's support for corporate-tax cuts, charter school expansion and the lack of publicly financed campaigns for all statewide offices.
"The tax provisions in this budget provide the biggest benefits to the wealthy and to Wall Street -- they'll make our worst-in-the-nation income inequality even worse," said Michael Kink, head of the Strong Economy for All liberal coalition.
Billy Easton, executive director of the Alliance for Quality Education and a charter school critic, said: "Their corporate backers spent more than $5 million on attack ads and lobbying and the governor championed their cause."
Cuomo countered: "We want to protect and grow that charter school movement."