2015-04-07 / Opinion

Guest Commentary

State Senator James Seward

The new state budget which was just passed in Albany addresses a number of the leading concerns people discuss with me on a daily basis. The spending plan includes tax relief for hardworking families, a substantial increase ($1.4 billion) in school aid, help for those pursuing a college education, and key investments in our infrastructure.

The 2015-16 budget is also fiscally responsible. For the fifth straight year, the budget keeps within a two-percent spending cap which is consistent with the local spending cap that applies to school districts and local governments.

Along with holding the line on state spending the budget includes meaningful property tax relief through several measures including:

• Property Tax Freeze Rebate Checks: For the second consecutive year, the new state budget will deliver new – and much larger – property tax freeze rebate checks;

• Record Funding for STAR: The budget provides $3.2 billion to help fully fund STAR and Enhanced STAR – two outstanding programs which deliver major tax relief to millions of middle class families and senior citizens each year;

• Local Savings: The $1.4 billion school aid increase coupled with ongoing pension and Medicaid reforms provide substantial savings to local governments and help them keep property taxes in check.

In regard to the education aid, the new funding reflects an increase of hundreds of millions of dollars above what the governor proposed and will be fairly and equitably distributed throughout the state. A large portion will also be used to make a dramatic reduction in the Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA).

The GEA has been an absolute nightmare for our schools and has cost them millions of dollars since it was first enacted in 2010. I voted against it when it was first introduced and have been working to erase it ever since. This year’s budget reduces what remains of the GEA cuts by nearly 60 percent with an eye toward full elimination next year.

Along with the funding side of the education equation, a great deal of time and energy was spent on the governor’s demand for education reforms. I rejected the governor’s agenda as proposed and worked to enact revisions that will reduce testing, place teacher evaluations in the hands of education experts, and promote continued excellence in our local schools. The end result, especially in regard to evaluations, is still a work in progress and I intend to stay fully involved as a strong advocate for local stakeholders.

The budget also includes major new investments in New York’s higher education system, ensuring strong support for tuition assistance programs, public and private universities, and community colleges across the state. Specific elements include:

• Increased Support for Community Colleges: The new budget provides a $20 million increase for SUNY and CUNY by increasing full-time equivalent (FTE) funding by $100. Base aid will be $2,597 per FTE for the 2015-16 Fiscal Year;

Tuition Assistance Program (TAP): The budget increases funding for TAP by $45 million from last year, helping thousands of young New Yorkers afford a quality higher education;

• New Scholarships: The budget also establishes a new merit scholarship program, with $500 scholarships going to 5,000 eligible students.

In regard to our infrastructure, the new budget includes $500 million for broadband expansion and makes major investments in our roads and bridges that will help create jobs, generate economic activity, and improve safety. Among the highlights:

• CHIPs: This year’s budget makes a record investment of $488 million to support important local highway, road, and bridge repair projects, including $438 million through the Consolidated Local Street and Highway Improvement Program (CHIPs);

• Winter Recovery: Local governments will be getting $50 million to address this year’s severe winter weather that resulted in a significant number of potholes and road surface damage.

There are a number of other positives to assist our farmers, protect the environment, and keep everyone healthy. I will be detailing those in the coming weeks. You can also read more on my website,

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