State Budget Update

Background
For those who need a refresher on the budget process – in the beginning of each calendar year, the Governor proposes a budget for the following fiscal year (April – March). The budget includes spending allocations as well as legislative items reflecting the Governor’s agenda (e.g. APPR). After reviewing the Governor’s proposal, meeting in committees and getting feedback from constituents, the Senate and Assembly publish their own versions (called one-house budgets).  The two houses then work to reconcile their separate plans, with the goal of ratifying the final budget ahead of the first day of the new fiscal year (April 1st).

Where Things Stand Right Now

School Aid
The Governor’s budget calls for an increase of $1Billion in education spending. While this seems huge, the Board of Regents estimates that just retaining existing services will cost $1.7B. NYUST is asking for an increase of $2.1B to include targeted funding for ELL, CTE, struggling schools, professional development, expanding pre-k, and enrollment growth.

Last year the Governor started with a figure of $1.1B, NYSUT lobbied for $2.1B, and the final budget increase was $1.4B. We have reassurance from all our legislators that the actual number this year will be higher than the Governor’s allocation, but there really is no telling where it will wind up.

A major issue with the budget is that the Governor wants to eliminate the Foundation Aid formula which is used to calculate school aid. This would not only make future budgeting more uncertain, but would also erase $4.3B in prior aid owed to schools. This affects some districts a lot more than others. (e.g. SWR is owed $3 million, while Riverhead is owed $29 million, click here to look up other districts). Although NYSUT is amenable to modifying the formula, we advocated strongly for it not to be eliminated.

We did get reassurance from some of the legislators that they will push to keep the formula the same, even promising to try to repay back aid. We are cautiously optimistic that we will prevail in getting the legislature to keep the formula in use.

Teacher Centers
For the past few years, the Governor’s budget has eliminated funding for teacher centers, and this year’s does so again. We advocated for not only putting teacher centers back into the budget but to reinstate their funding levels back to the 2008-09 level of $40 million. For reference, the 16-17 budget was $14.6 million.

We have won this battle in the past, and we’re confident that Teacher Centers will be saved, and we’re hopeful that funding will be increased (although it’s very unlikely to be at the level we requested).

APPR
There are no changes to APPR in this year’s budget. We did remind legislators about the folly of rating teachers based on test scores, but they are not likely to make any moves at all without direction from the Regents. The Regents has in the past noted that it is bound by the legislature in what it can recommend. It doesn’t appear that anything will be changing any time soon.

Tax Cap
We advocated for amending the tax cap to a “true 2,” meaning that it would be 2% of the rate of inflation – whichever is GREATER (it is currently based on whichever is LESS). We also advocated for exemptions based on increased enrollment and other factors.

Simply put, this ain’t changing. The tax cap is extremely popular with voters. And while there is support for modification or exemptions among some legislators, there is just no momentum to make it happen

Special Education Waivers
The budget includes language that would allow school districts, BOCES, special ed providers, and private schools to petition for flexibility in complying with certain special education requirements. We are lobbying against this.

I don’t have a sense of how likely this is to go through, but we brought the issue up and can hope that we got our point across.

State Revenue
The Governor’s budget includes extension of the “millionaire’s tax,” which is due to sunset this year. NYSUT advocated that this be not only be kept in the budget, but modified to make it more progressive, which could raise an additional $5.6B in revenue for the state.

The Assembly members we met with seemed open to a more progressive tax, while the Senate members indicated that they were inclined to maintain the tax but would not even consider a more progressive version. However a report last week indicated that the Senate is moving toward not even extending it, potentially reducing the state’s projected revenue.

We’re cautiously optimistic that the millionaire’s tax will be extended (more because of the Governor’s influence than our lobbying), but see almost no chance that a more progressive version will be implemented.

Democratic Assemblymen introduced a bill earlier this month that would compensate for the Carried Interest Loophole. It is estimated that this change would raise state revenue by $3.5B. NYSUT supports this bill and advocated for its passage.

Unfortunately, despite the fact that carried interest is something that’s been opposed by people as far apart as Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, this bill is unlikely to pass.

Freedom of Information Law
Language in the Governor’s budget would allow public disclosure (via a FOIL request) of the terms of new collective bargaining agreements BEFORE THEY ARE VOTED on by employee organization. This could have very negative effects on our ability to negotiate fair contracts, as it would allow the general public to weigh in after terms have been agreed to, but not yet ratified.

This language was in last year’s bill and we were successful in getting it pulled. We believe we will prevail again.

Other Issues
The above are just some of the critical issues that are in the Governor’s budget. Other issues that NYSUT advocated for included multiple concerns related to higher ed, healthcare, libraries, and more.  We work on these issues not only because our membership includes nurses, professors, and service related professionals, but also because these are issues that impact our students in multiple ways.

NEXT STEPS
The Assembly has just released their one house bill (you can see the full text here), and the Senate should be releasing theirs shortly. Once they’ve been analyzed and summarized, we’ll pass that along.

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