As the new fiscal year begins, I wanted to provide you with information regarding important funding and initiatives included in the budget that will benefit the Southern Tier.
My main concern was making sure that Upstate’s interests and concerns were heard. Increased support for our schools and infrastructure, a plan to address our heroin problem, along with Paid Family Leave, are some of the things my constituents really wanted to see get done.
Included in the budget is a $1.5 billion increase in school aid. As part of this increase, Broome County schools will receive a total of $247 million in state aid. The budget also fully eliminates the Gap Elimination Adjustment, a funding mechanism instituted during the recession. $100 million was also included for community schools, which provides wrap around services to children in struggling schools. Additionally, SUNY tuition will be frozen for the next year; while Community Colleges will receive a $100 increase in state support for each student that attends.
The maintenance and repair of our local infrastructure continues to be a priority. Roads and bridges in our area will get help thanks to a $400 million increase over the next four years for the Consolidated Highway Improvement Program (CHIPs). The Department of Transportation will continue to update infrastructure under its jurisdiction with an increase of $1.04 billion for DOT’s five-year capital plan; this includes an increase of $860 million to the state’s Highway and Bridge program. $200 million in additional funds for water and sewer system improvements are also part of the final budget.
As Co-Chair of the Legislative Aviation Caucus, I successfully advocated for an increase in the Air 99 capital grants program. A $200 million infrastructure competition for Upstate airports was also included in the final budget. This will help to significantly modernize five airports in Upstate. I also worked to provide additional help for NY freight rail to keep goods moving smoothly throughout the state.
Heroin and Opiate Treatment
As we continue to battle the opioid epidemic in our community, the state budget includes $25 million for the Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS) to significantly increase support for Heroin and Opiate Treatment and Prevention in NYS. An additional $1 million is also provided for the Department of Environmental Conservation to conduct local and federally approved drug collection programs. We will also continue working with our federal, county, and local partners to combat the epidemic; there is a heightened awareness at the state level that will translate into improved coordination of services in the future.
Paid Family Leave
The 2016-17 budget includes an important win for the state’s workforce: Paid Family Leave. The United States is only one of two countries in the world (along with Papua New Guinea) that does not have a system of paid family leave. When fully implemented, New York’s new system will provide up to 12 weeks of leave to care for a newborn child or an ailing family member with no cost to employers, as it will be funded entirely through employee contributions of about a dollar per week.
In the first year (2018), employees can take up to eight weeks of leave at 50% of their average weekly wage; the second and third years will provide ten weeks of leave at 55% and 60% of their average weekly wage respectively; and by the fourth year, employees can take up to 12 weeks of paid leave with compensation worth 67% of their average weekly wage. During each year of implementation, compensation cannot exceed the same percentage of the statewide average weekly wage; for example, in the first year an employee can receive 50% of his or her average weekly wage, as long as it is not in excess of 50% of the statewide average weekly wage.
This gives employees peace of mind while caring for their families, and saves employers the costly process of finding replacements. The NYS Assembly has passed legislation to provide paid family leave but never received approval in the State Senate, along with the Governor’s significant, support until now.
Children and Families
As Chair of the Assembly Children and Families Committee, I successfully advocated for a number of programs. Advantage Afterschool, which funds afterschool programs statewide, received an additional $3 million dollars for a total of $22 million – the highest funding amount since the recession.
Kinship care, a program, which diverts children from the foster care system to family members, received an additional $2 million. This will allow the program to expand it’ statewide presence and provide continued assistance to caregiver
During budget negotiations, the most contentious topic was the idea of raising the minimum wage to $15/hr. The current minimum wage has resulted in millions of working New Yorkers living in poverty, and as a result, half of the $26 billion spent annually on public assistance goes to working families. The Legislature recognized that hardworking New Yorkers deserve a living wage; we also recognized that $15 could put Upstate small businesses, farmers, and non-profits at risk. Upstate majority members, along with our colleagues in the State Senate agreed to a compromise, a slowly phased-in increase, which will ultimately raise the minimum wage to $12.50 in Upstate by 2021. This plan also comes with a ‘safety valve’ that allows for the increase to be stopped if the economy should decline.
Other highlights include:
- An additional $500,000 for our local Anti-Poverty Initiative.
- Income tax cuts for the middle class; those making under $300,000 (income limit for joint filers)
- Funding for a new round of Regional Economic Development Awards.
- $100 million for a new Downtown Revitalization Initiative, which will allow ten communities (one in each of the state’s economic development regions) that are currently experiencing population loss and/or economic decline to submit revitalization plans for their downtown area.
- A significant increase in the Environmental Protection Fund (now funded at $300 million).
- $5 million in capital projects and an extra $4 million in general aid for local libraries