As you may know, Gov. Andrew Cuomo is scheduled to give his 2014-15 Budget Address tomorrow at 2 p.m. (you can watch a live stream here). Earlier this month, Gov. Cuomo released a more than $2 billion tax relief proposal that called for, among other things, tax cuts for upstate manufacturers, and a two-year freeze on property taxes. Tomorrow, he’ll flesh out these and other proposals — it’s expected that he’ll recommend an increase in school aid, and push for ethics and campaign finance reforms (here’s more on the back-and-forth about the address from Albany reporter Karen DeWitt.)
So, how will the 2014-15 Budget Address and (more importantly) the budget itself impact the North Country? What are we looking for tomorrow? Here’s what some of our reporters are saying:
From David Sommerstein:
“Governor Cuomo mentioned instructing the state DOT to conduct an environmental study on a possible Canton-Potsdam bypass. We’ll be looking to see if there’s any funding in the budget for that, or any other transportation improvements along the Route 11 corridor from Watertown to Plattsburgh.
In agriculture: Will Cuomo continue funding for opening more TasteNY stores, highlighting produce made in New York? Is funding needed for the Yogurt Summit 2.0 he promised in the State of the State, or the new Summit to sell more NY produce in New York City?
Taxes: Many local officials are concerned about Cuomo’s plans to cut property taxes and force consolidation of services. They argue consolidation doesn’t yield enough savings. Leaders are going to be watching the numbers on Cuomo’s plan to cut taxes carefully.”
Sarah Harris has been reporting extensively on education (here and here, for example), and she says that (not surprisingly given how huge this is), the biggest educational issue we’ll hear about tomorrow is how much funding schools will get. Particularly at issue is the state aid formula, which many say is unfair to poor rural schools:
“Education activists, as well as 83 Senators and Assembly members, including Addie Russell, have asked the governor to increase school aid by $1.9 billion.
Their letter to the governor says the state needs to ‘reduce the achievement gap that exists across this state, in rural communities, suburban areas, and cities large and small.’ They want the additional aid money to be ‘distributed in an equitable formula.’
Speaking on [public radio program] Capitol Pressroom last week, Governor Cuomo said that the formula for state aid increase is at just below four percent. He said of course schools need more, but the question is how much. He also said that increased school aid doesn’t mean higher performance from students, and that it’s unfair to keep asking tax papers to pay more in property or income tax.
We may also see details on specific programs that the governor specified in his State of the State address: a $2 billion bond program that would bring technology into schools like wireless internet access in classrooms, tablets instead of textbooks, access to online learning.
The governor also hopes to create universal pre-K in the state but disagrees with NYC mayor Bill de Blasio about how to fund it. de Blasio hopes to tax NYC’s wealthiest in order to fund pre-K in the city, Cuomo doesn’t want to raise taxes this year. We may see details on that.”
And for Adirondack Bureau Chief Brian Mann, the main budget issues for us are prisons and the Adirondack Park.
North Country Environmental groups, he says, will be eager to hear details on spending for stewardship, especially given the state’s recent commitment to expanding the Adirondack forest preserve by tens of thousands of acres. The New York State Department of Conservation and the Adirondack Park Agency have both seen a staffing squeeze that has some saying there aren’t enough “boots on the ground” to take care of the Adirondack Park. Environmental groups are also eager to see a renewed commitment to the Environmental Protection Fund, Brian says — that’s the pool of money the state uses to fund things like clean water projects and land conservation.
As for prisons, two prisons are scheduled to close in the North Country in the next six months: One in northern Saratoga County, and one in Franklin County. More from Brian:
“Prison guards, local officials, and the region’s Albany delegation have pushed hard to convince Governor Cuomo to walk that proposal back, but so far he hasn’t seemed willing to budget.
The budget address will be the big moment when we see whether there’s any flexibility on that timeline for Chateaugay Correctional or Mt. McGregor.
We’ll also learn whether Cuomo envisions spending more money on helping those New Yorkers with drug and alcohol problems reach alternative treatment — rather than shipping them off to prison.”
Our Program Director Jackie Sauter is also looking out to see how the state is going to fund organizations that support people with developmental disabilities:
These are some of the largest employers in our region. They have endured pretty big cuts from the state the past few years and many are struggling. They also have to absorb the increase in minimum wage. Another year of cuts or even no increase for [cost of living] will be very tough.
So, lots to look for in tomorrow’s speech — and you’ll know what Gov. Cuomo says when we do! Meanwhile, what are you looking for in the budget? Pet projects? Major issues you see being overlooked? Or do you think Cuomo’s doing a fantastic job?