The N.Y. state capitol building in Albany. Photo: Wikipedia/Matt Wade

Unable to reach agreement on a full budget, state lawmakers yesterday passed a pair of emergency spending measures to keep state government operating through May 31.

The so-called budget extender continues all state government operations and freezes state education aid at the current year’s funding levels.

School officials, who face hard deadlines for adopting their own budgets for the coming fiscal year, must now do so without knowing what to expect in state aid — a significant portion of a school district’s revenue. In Riverhead, for example, total state aid for the school district’s current fiscal year was more than $28 million— more than 20 percent of its overall budget.

School boards must adopt budget proposals by April 21 and submit property tax levy data to the state by April 24 in preparation for the May 16 public vote. They will have to prepare their budgets and even ask for voter approval without knowing state aid amounts for 2017-2018.

“As it appears now, school districts may be proposing budgets without knowing how much revenue they will receive from the state in 2017-18,” the New York State School Boards Association said in a statement released last night.

“Without an enacted state budget, school boards will have to make various assumptions about their state aid. That could result in decisions to override the tax cap, or to cut educational programs. Under any scenario, these are not optimal budget conditions,” the organization said, urging the governor and legislature to finalize state aid to education “as quickly as possible.”

This is the first time in seven years that the governor and legislature failed to meet — or come close to meeting — the April 1 deadline imposed by the state constitution.

“I believe that having a good state budget is more important than passing an inferior budget,” State Sen. Ken LaValle said. “By approving the budget extensions, now we have the opportunity to continue to work towards a state budget that reflects Long Island’s needs.”

LaValle said his focus is on “meaningful tax relief” for Long Islanders.

“I am continuing to fight for a permanent 2-percent state spending cap, to secure additional state school aid, to maintain funding of the STAR rebate program, and help businesses create new lasting jobs,” LaValle said in a statement yesterday.

He said he is also working to increase financial aid to middle class families with children in college and “advocating for the largest investment in state history” to preserve clean water.

Several contested policy issues pushed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo stood in the way of meeting the deadline. After negotiations through the weekend failed to produce agreement, Cuomo and legislative leaders agreed on the emergency spending bills, which they dubbed a “budget extender.”

Cuomo, a Democrat, has railed against the proposals set forth in President Donald Trump’s budget blueprint and the budget implications of federal changes and cuts to Medicaid contained in various proposals for replacing the Affordable Care Act offered by Republican legislators in Washington. He has complained that the uncertainty in Washington makes it difficult for state officials to complete their budgets. And he has cast the state budget-making process in the light of protecting rights and values he says are under attack by “an ultraconservative Congress” and the Trump administration.

“In this environment our state budget takes on much greater significance,” Cuomo said in a statement on Sunday. “Indeed, it is not merely a budget at all: It is a statement of values, a guarantee of personal protection and a safeguard of financial security.”

One of Cuomo’s contested proposals is to raise the age of criminal responsibility.

“New York is one of only two states in the nation to treat 16- and 17-year-olds as adults for purposes of criminal responsibility,” Cuomo said. “Draconian punishments for youthful mistakes have ruined the lives of countless young New Yorkers.”

A second sticking point for lawmakers was Cuomo’s proposal to revise a controversial affordable housing program for New York City that gives developers subsidies and tax breaks in exchange for affordable housing units.

In addition to keeping New York’s government running, the emergency spending bills fully fund the state’s $16.4 billion “construction and economic development plan” for the next fiscal year, Cuomo said, providing for infrastructure, economic development and environmental projects. This includes $55 billion for capital investments in transportation infrastructure, $477.8 million in highway improvement funds, $725 million to fund the state’s Clean Water Infrastructure Act, $300 million for the environmental protection fund, $100 million for downtown revitalization projects, $150 million in capital funding for the state’s regional economic development councils, and a score of other projects and initiatives. Among them: $20 million to connect MacArthur Airport with the LIRR, plus $40 million for infrastructure investments that will support economic growth, environmental sustainability and water quality in business districts in Smithtown and Kings Park, the governor said.

“From the Buffalo Billion to Whiteface Mountain to Penn Station to the LIRR, our development moves forward,” Cuomo said in a statement last night.

“But make no mistake: we are far from done. We must finish the job and pass a responsible budget that makes college tuition free for the middle class, fully funds our public schools, cuts taxes for the middle class, Raises the Age of criminal responsibility, combats homelessness, and moves New York forward. We will work until we accomplish it all,” he said.

The survival of local journalism depends on your support.
We are a small family-owned operation. You rely on us to stay informed, and we depend on you to make our work possible. Just a few dollars can help us continue to bring this important service to our community.
Support RiverheadLOCAL today.

Avatar photo
Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor and attorney. Her work has been recognized with numerous journalism awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She was also honored in 2020 with a NY State Senate Woman of Distinction Award for her trailblazing work in local online news. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.