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$168.3B state budget adopted

$168.3B state budget adopted

Schenectady schools to receive $3.1M in additional aid; state legislators' pay to be reviewed
$168.3B state budget adopted
The state Capitol was quiet Saturday as legislators headed home for the holiday after adopting a state budget.
Photographer: Gazette file photograph

ALBANY — State lawmakers passed a $168.3 billion budget and worked into the early morning hours Saturday to complete their work on a spending plan before the new fiscal year began today.

The budget for 2018-19 includes $1 billion in new spending for local school districts across the state, investments in water quality and money to fight Lyme disease. The budget also adds surcharges on taxi, Uber and Lyft rides in Manhattan and a new state sexual harassment policy written following the #MeToo movement.

The adopted budget also contains one notable new tax, a fee on opioid manufacturers and distributors that will raise funds to combat addiction.

Lawmakers also inserted language to create a commission to examine whether members of the Senate and Assembly, who have not seen an increase since 1998, deserve a pay raise.

The budget passed before dawn Saturday morning, just hours after Cuomo announced an agreement with Albany’s legislative leaders.

Increased school funding agreed to in the new budget deal is expected to result in more aid than for districts like Schenectady.

Schenectady Superintendent Larry Spring said Saturday that the final figure for Schenectady’s foundation aid is expected to be $3.1 million over last year’s mark. Cuomo’s original budget proposal called for around a $1.6 to $1.8 million increase, Spring recalled.

Spring said he expects the funds to help erase the district’s anticipated $5 million deficit calculated at the start of the 2018-2019 budget process.

“I think it will ensure that we won’t have to cut anything,” Spring said. “I feel pretty confident that we won’t have to make any cuts based on that.”

The district is expected to finalize its budget in the next couple weeks, then send it to voters in May.

While budgets often are concerned with the minutiae of state operations, Cuomo’s plan singled out some name-brand, nationally known locales — the subways, for one — which the governor said the city must help pay to repair or suffer hundreds of millions in withheld funds.

In his ceremonial unveiling of the new state budget Friday, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo presented the $168 billion blockbuster as a rebuttal to Washington, a defiant thrust of the chin at President Donald Trump.

But another of the bill’s targets could be found much closer to home.

Seated in the state Capitol’s historic Red Room, flanked by several top advisers, Cuomo made it clear, again and again, that he intended to lay a heavy hand on matters concerning New York City and, by extension, on matters concerning his intraparty rival, Mayor Bill de Blasio.

The examples came fast and furious. On Saturday, however, the governor said his budget decision had “nothing to do with the mayor.”

“There are significant problems in New York City that need significant help,” Cuomo said during an Easter event at the Executive Mansion in Albany, listing his other efforts to use the budget to address homelessness as well as provide assistance for NYCHA, the subways, commuters and inmates.

“So who wins? Straphangers, children in public housing, children in public schools and people who drive with traffic, and the people who have been suffering in Rikers,” the governor said.

Some city officials have rejected Cuomo’s call to pay for half the repairs, arguing that 70 percent of the operating budget of the controlling agency, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, already comes from New York City payroll and other taxes. And de Blasio rarely misses an opportunity to point out that the state, not the city, controls the subway system.

The subways are also a key element in the subplot that many observers see undergirding the governor’s current fury with City Hall: the emergent candidacy of actress Cynthia Nixon as a primary challenger to Cuomo.

Nixon, a close ally of de Blasio who announced her campaign as negotiations on the budget heated up in mid-March, has made no secret of the fact that she intends to attack the governor on the state of the subways. (Her campaign website has a section devoted to #CuomosMTA.)

She has already called Cuomo’s liberal credentials into question. At her campaign’s debut, she asked if he was a “real Democrat,” and she has linked him to the Independent Democratic Conference, a group of eight breakaway Democrats in the state Senate who collaborate with Republicans. Several progressive groups in New York that have expressed their enthusiasm for Nixon’s candidacy have suggested that they will take their anger at Trump out on the IDC and its allies.

The budget seemed a perfect opportunity for Cuomo, who has spent most of the last 40 years involved in New York state politics, to show his mastery of Albany’s levers of power — and his knowledge of how to use them against his foes.

“Cuomo never, ever missed an opportunity to stick it to de Blasio,” said Douglas Muzzio, a professor of political science at Baruch College.

In the spending plan, Cuomo also sought and won new oversight of the city’s public schools. The budget requires districts located in cities with populations of more than 1 million to submit a detailed, school-by-school accounting of how they spent state educational funds. Previously, the state allocated money to districts but did not oversee the distribution of that money.

Like the city’s subways, if districts do not comply, the state can withhold funding.

Cuomo billed the move as a much-needed increase in transparency. But it also served a dual political purpose: It jabbed at the tradition of mayoral control of New York City’s schools, and it also allowed the governor to take an aggressive stand on the issue of educational equity — a marquee issue of Nixon, a longtime education activist who has placed the issue squarely at the heart of the early stages of her campaign.

Specifically, Nixon has blasted Cuomo for underfunding schools, accusing him of neglecting children of color in the poorest districts. But Cuomo on Friday said the issue was not the amount of money being spent, but rather how it was being spent.

On Friday night, the reaction to the governor’s plans to use state control to devise plans for the Penn Station area, coveted by developers (including some who have been generous donors to Cuomo’s campaigns), was swift and angry.

“It is wrong for the governor to try to take over urban planning, traffic management and real estate development in New York City,” said Richard Gottfried, the veteran Democratic assemblyman who represents the area. “That’s what this bill is aimed at.”

In the Senate, too, downstate Democrats expressed alarm at the budget’s perceived power grab in the city. Sen. Liz Krueger, a consistently liberal voice who represents a district on the East Side of Manhattan, said during debate on the Senate floor that the bill signaled the death of home rule.

And Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan, another veteran Democrat who chairs that chamber’s education committee, also predicted that the governor’s decision to allow his Division of the Budget to oversee and potentially limit the spending of big school districts, such as New York City’s, could backfire.

“Districts statewide are going to deeply resent the governor’s ability to withhold funds so arbitrarily in such a punitive fashion,” said Nolan, who — for the first time in 33 years in Albany — said she voted no on a major part of a budget bill. “Never underestimate the grass-roots power of local control.”

Reports from the New York Times and other wire news services have been included in this story.

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