Senators talk budget priorities
CHESTER, NY — With the budget process nearing an end in Albany, state 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 budget of many towns in her district. When town officials responded with significant opposition, 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 online retailers, such a move would be forcing counties to fill the AIM funding. That, she said, should be a state obligation.
School funding was another important topic of discussion. Metzger said schools are not getting all the funding they are due, specifically from state foundation aid. According to the Alliance for a Quality Education New York, an organization that has been on a statewide school tour, schools in Metzger’s 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. In the Roscoe School District, for instance, the cost is $1.1 million over 10 years.
Metzger and her colleagues are also pushing against the governor’s proposal to cut $1 million in funding that would address Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses. Metzer argued that the problem has worsened due to climate change.
Both Metzger and Skoufis said that the governor’s budget is not beneficial for rural communities. Agriculture is important to Metzger’s sprawling, rural district, she said, and she wants to ensure that every state agricultural program is fully funded.
When Skoufis took to the podium, he added that “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. The Senate has already proposed legislation in that realm, and he expects that will occur in this budget process. He also wants to see an income tax decrease for middle-class families.
On the topic of maintaining the roads in the state, Cuomo has proposed cutting funding to the Consolidated Local Street and Highway Improvement Program (CHIPS) . The Senate budget seeks to restore that funding and add an 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 they now provide access to the internet, and in the 2020 census for the first time, people will be able to respond to the census survey online. He noted that libraries provide other valuable services to communities such as help locating employment. “It is astounding to me that our governor continues to attack libraries each and every year.” The Senate is looking to restore the $5 million the governor seeks to cut from libraries, and add an additional $1 million.
Regarding funding for people with disabilities Skoufis said, “The governor looks to decimate a program called the Consumer-Directed Personal 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 area, the Senate is seeking to re-establish the office of the advocate for people with disabilities, which was dissolved more than a decade ago. “If you have a physical disability, you’re wheelchair bound, you’re deaf, you’re blind, there is literally no agency-level office for you to turn to,” said Skoufis.
More resources also need to be directed toward the opioid crisiss, 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 address 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 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.”