About 5 am on Tuesday morning April 1 the Albany legislators will finally pass the budget. If you ask them what they voted on most will be exhausted and clueless. Budget decisions are made behind closed doors by the powerbrokers.
Sheldon Silver, the leader of the democrats in the Assembly since 1994 and as shrewd a negotiator as one can find will satisfy the needs of his members, on the Senate side the awkward shared leadership, the republican leader, Dean Skelos and the leader of the Independent Caucus (IDC), Jeff Klein will squirm as the big dog, Governor Cuomo, plays democrat against republican to craft a budget that assures a large majority in November and creates a path to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue if Hillary decides not to run.
New York State has one of the widest differences among districts in school funding as any state in the nation. Most of school funding is driven by local property taxes set by elected school boards. For the last few years increases in school taxes have been capped at 2% as a result of a Cuomo imposed limitation. Normal increases: salaries, pension costs, fuel oil, replacements, etc., exceed 2% each of the last few years; districts around the state have been forced to cut services to stay within the cap.
Reductions in extracurricular activities, teams, course offerings, and teacher layoffs, occasional agreements to freeze salaries, with no end in sight in spite of a projected increase in state aid of between 800M and 1B, schools districts will still have to continue to reduce services.
Public school parents may be unhappy, tax payers without children in schools not so.
The governor has successfully set one group, taxpayers without kids in public schools against public school parents, and all taxpayers against teacher unions; after all, if teachers would only agree to earn less, to reduce benefits the schools could retain services, at least for a while.
The goal of the governor is to sit back, watch school districts struggle and bicker, and eventually see the 700 school district consolidate and/or perhaps seek more drastic solutions.
His opponent in November will be a far, far right wing republican supporting unlimited charter schools and vouchers.
It would appear voters will have no place to go, either reluctantly vote for Cuomo or stay home, unless a third party candidate emerges
Once, the April 1 budget deadline only dealt with the budget, over the last few years a range of other items have wedged their way into the budget.
The Dream Act: allowing undocumented students access to Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) looks like it will not make it into the budget. The Compassionate Care Act, aka, the legalization of medical marijuana, unless Cuomo kills it, looks headed to passage, as part of the budget or a standalone issue later in the session.
In New York City the two issues are preK and charter schools.
The Governor made it abundantly clear, there would not be a tax on the earners of 500K plus to fund preK, the funds would emanate from the state budget and the funds would be statewide; de Blasio went through the motions of fighting for a tax on the wealthier and backed away – the preK dollars will not be generated by a targeted tax.
The charter school lobby decided to attack the new mayor early and hard.
What can $3.6m in TV ads buy for charter schools?
The Senate bowed to the dollars and passed legislation to overturn the de Blasio decision to reverse Bloomberg co-location decisions in three schools (194 kids), outlaw the charging of rent and driving many millions in construction funds to charter schools. Unexpectedly the Governor appeared at an Albany charter school rally and praised his newfound friends and de Blasio rapidly began to back peddle on his charter school co-location decisions.
Silver brushed aside the TV commercials and simply said his priority was the 8-10,000 kids in trailers.
The seemingly endless charter school dollars sent a clear message to electeds: if you don’t accept our legislative ideas we can easily fund a rival in your next election.
Another set of bills would allow “charitable” contributions to private and parochial schools to count as deductions on state income taxes – at a cost to the state of an estimated $300M a year, legislation strongly supported by Cardinal Dolan. Will the bill only apply to school servicing poorer students, or, could a parent donate to a high end private school and get a tax write-off?
Newsday reports that the legislature is approaching an agreement that would prohibit the use of state standardized tests for any decisions regarding promotions for two years. The state testing data would continue to be used for principal and teacher evaluations.
Would such a bill satisfy parent anger over the tests?
As the March 31 deadline approaches legislators will scramble to get their bill, their local “need,” into the budget package. Lobbyists will be racing down the halls of the Legislative Office Building (LOB), staff will be sleeping on couches, and eighteen hour days will be the norm.
Sheldon Silver has been the speaker for twenty years, he is the master of the end game, the ultimate negotiator, the eminence grise, the modern day Cardinal Richelieu, moving the chess pieces, planning many moves down the line, understanding foibles, trading a tit for a tat, having patience, knowing in the final moments Cuomo needs a budget. One of my favorite Richelieu lines,
IF YOU GIVE ME SIX LINES WRITTEN
BY THE MOST HONEST MAN, I WILL FIND
SOMETHING IN THEM TO HANG HIM.