The mid-year cuts in promised school aid proposed Wednesday by Gov. David Paterson drew immediate opposition from the region’s state legislators and local educators.
“Mid-year cuts to local school aid are very devastating,” said state Sen. Hugh T. Farley, R-Niskayuna. “These are things I think will not come out, in the final analysis.”
Paterson is looking to close what he said is a $1.5 billion deficit remaining in the current state budget. On Wednesday, he proposed specific cuts in advance of a special legislative session starting Tuesday in Albany.
The biggest of Paterson’s proposals is to save $800 million by reducing aid increases to local districts — cuts those districts will oppose when the state Legislature deliberates.
“We will be working with [local legislators] and the state school superintendents’ association. This is something we would like to see not happen,” said Clifford Moses, superintendent of the rural Galway School District in Saratoga County.
Like other local school officials, he is waiting to find out the specific impact on his district — Paterson is proposing districts be cut between 3 percent and 10 percent, depending on their wealth, students with special needs, and property tax levels.
“If the loss is 5 percent, that’s $350,000, which is about a 3 percent increase in property taxes,” Moses said.
Even if the district can draw from reserves to finish this year, making that money up would mean a bigger property tax increase next year, Moses said.
The Schenectady school district could lose about $2.3 million it was planning on, Superintendent Eric D. Ely said.
“So much of the spending is at the beginning of the school year, right now it would be difficult to find $2.3 million to cut. “Books and supplies are already purchased and paid for, and when you hire a teacher, you hire them for the entire year,”
“Ultimately, it’s going to be students and programs that are hurt the most under mid-year budget cuts,” said David Albert, a spokesman for the New York State School Boards Association, which represents the 700 local school districts.
Schools are already freezing spending, cutting back on purchases and not filling vacancies, Albert said. He said mid-year aid reductions will mean fewer field trips and extra-curricular activities, and cuts in non-core programs like music, art and athletics.
Assemblyman Roy J. McDonald, R-Saratoga, who was just elected to the state Senate seat formerly held by Joseph L. Bruno starting Jan. 1, said the governor’s proposal deserves serious review by legislators.
“The one thing I will say is that you can’t have shifts, meaning you can’t just shift costs back onto the counties or school districts, because then it comes back to the taxpayer,” McDonald said.
Farley said what’s now starting is a negotiating process between the governor and Legislature. He said the Senate Republicans don’t think the state deficit is as large as Paterson is projecting, and Paterson isn’t accounting for the positive impacts of federal economic stimulus money.
“Yes, we should start addressing [the deficit] and doing things we can do like hiring freezes, but the mid-year cuts are certainly not acceptable,” Farley said.
Assembly Minority Leader James N. Tedisco, R-Schenectady, said the governor’s proposals deserve consideration — but he took issue with Paterson’s mention of reinstating the sales tax on gasoline prices above $2 a gallon.
“We are concerned about the governor’s recent reference to possibly rolling back the gas tax cap, which is ultimately a tax hike on consumers,” Tedisco said, speaking for Assembly Republicans. “Now is definitely not the time to be raising taxes on New Yorkers. A gas tax hike would hit upstate and Long Island motorists especially hard,”
Among Paterson’s other proposals is reducing the growth of Medicaid spending from 2 percent to 1 percent, to save an estimated $572 million.
That will mean a cut in reimbursements to hospitals and nursing homes, including publicly owned nursing homes like Glendale Home in Schenectady County and Maplewood Manor in Saratoga County. They already lose millions of dollars annually because Medicaid reimbursements don’t cover their actual costs.
“If they cut reimbursement for mandated services and we still have the cost, that’s the concern,” said Saratoga County Administrator David A. Wickerham.
A Paterson proposal to increase general fund revenue by drawing millions of dollars from the state’s Environmental Protection Fund drew opposition from the Adirondack Council, an environmental advocacy group.
“The governor wants to continue raiding this dedicated environmental fund to balance other areas of the budget, while the state’s environment continues to suffer,” said Brian L. Honseal, executive director of the Adirondack Council.
On the other hand, the council supports Paterson’s renewed proposal to bring water and other non-carbonated beverage bottles under the state’s bottle-deposit bill.