Thursday March 31, 2011

JACKSON, N.Y. -- Local Republican representatives in the New York State Senate and Assembly had a cheerful outlook on Thursday after a late legislative session the night before which saw passage of the state's first on-time budget in five years.

Ahead of deadline

Making good on a multitude of campaign promises, Cuomo and state lawmakers approved a budget shortly after midnight on Thursday which closes a $10 billion budget deficit without raising taxes or borrowing, all ahead of the April 1 deadline -- no April fools.

Cuomo called this year's budget "historic and transformational" in a statement released Thursday.

"It's important to do our jobs, and what we've shown is that even in tough times, we can do it," said Assemblyman Tony Jordan, whose 112th district includes all of Washington County and eastern Rensselaer County.

Jordan said that the governor played a major role, particularly in maintaining support from his party for the cuts. "He held firm, and he said, ‘We have a problem, folks, and I'm going to be the cold dose of reality that we needed,'" said Jordan.

State Senator Betty Little, representative of the 45th district which includes Washington County, said in a statement released shortly before midnight on Wednesday that this year's budget addresses the state deficit "without resorting to borrowing or fiscal gimmicks.


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"It's a change in direction that most New Yorkers recognize as long overdue. I'm hopeful this budget establishes a trajectory that puts us on a more sustainable path while encouraging the job growth so desperately needed," said Little.

"I think that yesterday and the day before were the culmination of an effort that probably really should have begun ... two years ago," said Jordan. "When you look at what this budget does, it closed a $10 billion deficit with no borrowing and no real taxes to speak of," said Jordan. "As important, it took significant steps toward closing out-year deficits as well, which is really starting to grow into a tremendous issue."

The $132.5 billion budget for 2011-2012 reduces spending by two percent from last year's budget through cuts to nearly every area of state government -- including more than a $1.2 billion reduction in local school district aid and a $2.8 billion reduction in the state's Medicaid program. The cuts have sent thousands this week, including teachers' unions and students, to the state capitol in protest.

The enacted budget approved by lawmakers restores approximately $272 million in education funding initially targeted by Cuomo, and Jordan said on Thursday that another last-minute change had tweaked school aid formulas to address inequity in state funding cuts.

In a March 23 letter to the Governor's office, Jordan wrote that upstate school districts educated 44 percent of the state's students but shouldered 53 percent of the reductions to school aid under Cuomo's February budget proposal.

Thursday's budget amended school aid formulas to redirect funds to upstate rural school districts which often rely more heavily on state aid.

Jordan said that Cambridge Central School District stood to gain back approximately $153,000 of state aid from that revision, while Hoosick Falls Central School District received nearly $69,000 in restored funding. The new amounts still represent a decrease in total state aid for the two school districts of 4.2 and 6.9 percent, respectively, over 2010-2011 spending levels according to Jordan.

Little cited the partial restoration of school aid and approximately $1.1 million in small government assistance for the 480/480a program for school districts in the North Country.

Little said that the budget included important funding for agriculture, including the Northern New York Agricultural Development program and the new Recharge NY Power Program.

Included Medicaid reform, Little said, was a "testament to the manystakeholderswho approached the challenge constructively and found common ground on some sensible reforms to reduce expenses."

Little said that she had spoken with the Governor about plans included in the budget to reduce the state's prison capacity, and she said that Cuomo was committed to approaching that subject in a "rational and fair way."

"Savings are needed, but we can't compromise on prison safety," said Little.

Jordan acknowledged issues that were not addressed in this year's budget, such as more substantial mandate relief for local municipalities and school districts. "Just because they weren't (in the budget) doesn't mean they won't be addressed in this session," said Jordan, who identified mandate relief and improving the state's business environment as two important discussions for this upcoming legislative session.

Some of the cuts budgeted for in 2011-2012 have yet to be detailed. Also not included is the property tax cap sought by Cuomo -- another expected issue for lawmakers later this session.

Contact Zeke Wright at ewright@benningtonbanner.com.