February 2013
January 28, 2013

Building a fair budget: More funding needed to help schools, hospitals, communities

Author: Betsy Sandberg
Source: NYSUT United

As they ramp up to advocate for what our schools, campuses and communities need, NYSUT's leaders and grassroots advocates plan to let state lawmakers know that the governor's proposed budget is a good starting point.

Lawmakers are beginning the tough work of crafting a state budget to meet extremely diverse needs against tough financial odds. The good news: They are starting with an executive proposal that offers real possibilities for helping high-needs school districts, the unemployed, the low-wage worker and communities.

The challenge: They must fairly address the deep needs of public colleges and teaching hospitals, as well as aid to schools that are still struggling to offset reductions from previous years.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo's budget proposals to increase the minimum wage and unemployment benefits for displaced workers are significant steps to helping those who have suffered, either from the financial crisis that started in 2008 or from hurricanes Irene and Lee in 2011 or Superstorm Sandy in 2012.

NYSUT President Dick Iannuzzi praised these efforts supporting working people, noting that "unemployment benefits and the minimum wage in New York have lagged behind other states for far too long."

On education and health care, more work needs to be done as school districts, colleges and universities, and hospitals and health care centers remain in critical need of resources.

Overall state aid to public schools and colleges in the governor's proposal is below what's needed to reverse years of cuts. Specifically, the $21 billion proposed in total state aid to schools for next year is still $100 million less than the state invested in 2008-09. Funding for the State University and City University systems and community colleges would stay flat, and state funds to SUNY hospitals would be significantly reduced.

"Our SUNY teaching hospitals are already in deep distress and SUNY Downstate Medical Center is on the critical list. They need more state support, certainly not less," said NYSUT Executive Vice President Andy Pallotta, citing the deep needs not just of the health science centers, but of the communities they support.

"Thousands of patients, many of them poor, uninsured and underinsured, would lose their access to quality health care," Pallotta said. "These cuts especially will not heal."

NYSUT, other unions and organizations are analyzing the governor's "pension-smoothing" proposal that could help districts, local governments, libraries and a number of agencies deal with the volatility of financial market forces, as well as a $203 million fund earmarked for school districts.

The proposed budget would eliminate all local government and school district reporting requirements on April 1, 2014, unless the state's Mandate Relief Council approves continuing them.

NYSUT is analyzing specifics on a new waiver process proposed for school districts to petition the State Education Department for flexibility in special education requirements and for school districts with fewer than 1,000 students not to be required to maintain an internal auditor.

The union is preparing testimony for an upcoming legislative hearing on Elementary and Secondary Education aid and working with advocates across the state to arrange visits to lawmakers' district offices the week of Feb. 4.