Since 2010, the state has gone from having a $10 billion budget deficit to a $1 billion surplus.
That gap was closed with the help of local school districts and at the expense of local education through something called the Gap Elimination Adjustment.
Under the Gap Elimination Adjustment, or GEA, the state essentially withheld some of the money it was supposed to allocate to local school districts through state aid and applied that money to its budget deficit. It was supposed to be a short-term infusion to get the state over a rough patch while the economy was bad.
But the rough patch has since been smoothed over, and the state no longer has a need or justification for the aid it withholds from the districts.
Yet state lawmakers continue to refuse restore the aid. That amounts to big money for many local school districts.
The Schalmont school district, for instance, is down $735,000. Mohonasen is still being shorted $662,000. Scotia-Glenville is owed over $697,000.
In many districts, subsequent increases in state aid have been offset by the GEA withholdings, essentially freezing or even lowering their aid from year to year.
Eliminating the GEA would provide immediate relief to school districts.
But the governor's proposed budget only restores a portion of the aid, and some lawmakers want to stretch out the restoration at least another year, perhaps more.
Combined with a new lower state property tax cap that limits districts’ ability to raise local tax hikes and pay for the rising costs for employee pensions, school districts could find themselves in a severe financial bind come budget time, now less than five months away.
The tax cap had and continues to have a legitimate purpose of holding local tax increases in line. But the Gap Elimination Adjustment has no such purpose. The GEA was and is nothing more than a way to place the burden of state overspending on the backs of the school districts.
Sen. Hugh Farley of Niskayuna said he believes the state can close the gap this year. Republicans in the Assembly minority, including Assemblyman George Amedore, are saying the same thing.
School districts have done their part to close the state's budget gap. By seeking final restoration of the GEA money, they're not asking for more. They're asking for what they should be receiving.
The state can afford to restore the aid this year. Let's hope the governor and lawmakers do what's right and finally resolve this problem that they, themselves, created.