New York State Senators talk budget priorities
CHESTER, NY — With the budget process nearing an end in Albany, Senators Jen Metzger and James Skoufis, who serve adjacent districts, held a news conference at the Chester Public Library on March 22, to talk about the Senate’s proposed budget and how it differs from the budget proposed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Metzger noted that the governor had proposed serious cuts to a program called Aid and Incentives to Municipalities (AIM). This would have left small but significant holes in the budgets of many towns in her district. When town officials responded with significant opposition earlier in the year, Cuomo proposed that the AIM funds be replaced with funding from a much-expanded tax on Internet sales. Metzger said that, while she supports the internet tax because it puts local retails on a level playing field with internet retailers, such a move would be forcing counties to fill the AIM funding, and that, she said, should be a state obligation.
School funding was another important area. She said schools are not getting all the funding they are due, specifically from state foundation aid. She said the schools in her district are owed $118 million in state foundation aid. Metzger said it’s important that the state adequately fund schools to take the pressure off property taxes, which are too high and unaffordable.
She is also working on a measure that would undo the negative impacts of what’s being described as a clerical error that is costing some school districts in the state a lot of funding. For the Roscoe School District, for instance, the cost is $1.1 million over ten years.
Another area that Metzger and her colleagues are pushing for restoration of funding for addressing Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses. The governor proposed a cut of $1 million. She said the Lyme problem is getting worse with climate change, and some people face life-long problems because of the illness.
She also noted that agriculture is important to her sprawling, rural district, and she wants to ensure that every state agricultural program is fully funded.
When Skoufis took to the podium, he said, “the governor’s proposed budget in many ways disrespects our suburban and rural communities. We have tried to fight back.”
Among his top priorities are making the property tax cap permanent, and the Senate has already passed legislation for that. He expects the tax cap will become permanent in this year's budget process. He also was to see an income tax decrease for middle class families.
On the topic of maintaining the roads in the state, Cuomo has proposed a cut in funding to the Consolidated Local Street and Highway Improvement Program (CHIPS). The senate budget seeks to restore that funding and add additional $150 million to the program. The senate is also looking to restore $65 million to the Extreme Winter Recovery Program.
Addressing libraries, Skoufis noted that, these days, they provide access to the internet. He noted that in the 2020 census, for the first time, people will be able to respond to the census survey online, and those without internet access can find it at libraries. He noted that libraries provide other valuable services to communities, such as helping with employment searches. “It is astounding to me that our governor continues to attack libraries each and every year,” he said. The senate is looking to restore the $5 million the governor seeks to cut from libraries, and add additional $1 million.
Regarding funding for people with disabilities, Skoufis said, “The governor looks to decimate a program called the consumer-directed assistance programs where individuals are empowered to go out and interview and hire their own healthcare aids to come to their home and take care of them. Thousands of New Yorkers have come to rely on this. The governor is basically looking to dismantle the entire program. We’re fighting to make sure that program not only stays in place, but can also continue to grow.”
In that same arena, the senate is seeking to re-establish the office of the advocate for people with disabilities. The office was dissolved more than a decade ago. “If you have a physical disability, you’re wheelchair bound, you’re deaf, you’re blind, theirs is literally no agency-level office for you to turn to,” said Skoufis.
More resources also need to be directed toward the opioid crises, Skoufis said, especially in the area of creating more in-patient beds for treatment. So many people struggling with addiction who seek treatment are turned away because “basically 100% of the time our beds are at capacity, everywhere in the state,” he said. The Senate budget would add a tax on the sale of opioid products in the state to help pay for more beds.
Both Senators addressed the governor’s proposed cuts to healthcare spending. Metzger said EMS operations would be negatively impacted by Cuomo’s transportation Medicaid cuts.
Skoufis said, “We’re talking about billions of dollars in healthcare cuts that the governor proposed, that would decimate EMS providers,” and have a negative impact on every hospital in New York State, anyone who relies on Medicaid. “Both the Senate and Assembly budget proposals restore every penny of those cuts, because, especially with what’s happening at the federal level right now with healthcare cuts, we simply can’t afford to be cutting ourselves here in New York.”