News: New York State Budget Crisis
(Long Island, N.Y.)There was a time when New York State once had the power to rescue Nassau County out of its financial woes. With the recent state takeover of the Nassau County budget, Long Islanders have been made aware that a state bailout is no longer an option. State Governor Andrew M. Cuomo has announced the state budget for 2011, making it clear that New York State faces troubles of its own.
Cuomo had to present the state budget last week on February 1st; this came a month later than the normal budget deadline because of his newly-elected status. Not surprisingly, the biggest recipients of budget cuts went to schools and healthcare. Cuomo plans to cut $1 billion to healthcare and $162 million from public health and program spending, which some label as an excessive measure against the financial problems of the state.
In defense of his budget, Cuomo spoke at Hofstra University and claimed that Albany has gotten gradually worse due to apathy and complacency. He maintains that the problem is not the amount of input and output, but rather the corruption of those in charge of utilizing figures. Many saw his statement as pointing the finger at special interest, but Cuomo claimed that politicians will always listen to the people or risk losing their positions. His overall message urged for a more active public.
School districts received the bulk of the burden of budget reform. Research showed that over 275 New York State Superintendents receive salaries that exceed $200k/year. Cuomo suggests that in order to compensate for the budget cuts, schools should start to use their reserve funds or tap into the $600 million still available from last year’s federal stimulus funding. That stimulus was given to districts to prevent teacher layoffs. Nonetheless, opponents of the budget argue that reserve funds are necessary for school emergency repairs and will only serve as a temporary solution to a long-term problem with the state budget.
While Cuomo’s staff maintains that reserve funds are only one way for schools to adapt to the budget, they don’t explain what should be done about the districts that don’t have much in reserves. School districts claim that the majority have already tapped into those specific funds. It leaves no doubt that the low income community districts will suffer from this the most, being that they don’t accumulate as much from property taxes and are more dependent on aid.
The question is whether Cuomo is conveniently shifting pressure to schools, or if he is simply finding the best solution to decrease state spending. He claims that though New York State ranks number one in spending for school districts and healthcare, the state falls to thirty-fourth and twenty-first in terms of performance in those categories. He says that without reform 9,800 state jobs are in jeopardy.
Would a better state policy require schools to get aid based on some sort of merit system? That’s what Cuomo seems to be suggesting. Teachers receive salaries based on seniority rather than critical evaluation. A better question might be: what’s going to happen when the schools follow through on Cuomo’s suggestion, spend their reserves, and bleed themselves dry?
The State University of New York (SUNY) system also suffered the lashings of Cuomo’s budget cuts. The state universities are expected to make up for a $130 million decrease in state funding. The current tuition for Stony Brook University is $4,970/year for New York State residents without including mandatory fees and book expenses. A graduation cap and gown costs $65, a bottle of orange juice (less than 16oz) at the Student Activities Center is well over $2, and the Student Union charges over $1/piece of sushi; with those prices it’s hard to believe that the university won’t be able to sustain the cuts.
The state says there will not be an increase in tuition for the following academic year. Though Cuomo’s budget slashes $100 million from the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA), it’s also been said that there won’t be an increase in fares or service cuts. New York City will lose $1 billion, and Mayor Michael Bloomberg claims that despite the city’s estimated $2 billion in reserves, the cut will result in 6,000 job losses. Bloomberg’s budget will be released on February 17th.