Jul 1st - 7:36 am
From the Morning Memo:
Advocates and the families of individuals killed by law enforcement are not satisfied with the Big Ugly compromise struck by the governor and legislative leaders after the Senate and Assembly failed to pass Cuomo’s proposed criminal justice reforms.
In the absence of a deal, the governor reluctantly agreed to heed AG Eric Schneiderman’s call that he be appointed to serve as a special prosecutor in incidents that result in civilian deaths at the hands of law enforcement – but only for one year, and only for a narrow subset of cases.
As part of a larger criminal justice reform package proposed following the Eric Garner case on Staten Island and Michael Brown case in Ferguson, Missouri, Cuomo had wanted to create a monitor who would review the records of cases in which grand juries decided not to indict officers of wrongdoing and make recommendations as to whether a special prosecutor should be appointed.
The family members and advocates didn’t like that plan, and after meeting with Cuomo at the Capitol, extracted a promise from him that if it did not pass muster with state lawmakers, he would use his executive powers to appoint the AG to serve as a special prosecutor to handle these cases.
After the meeting, they launched a lobbying effort to convince lawmakers to reject the governor’s reform proposal, which would – they believed – result in them getting what they wanted by default.
Their effort was successful, and lawmakers failed to reach an agreement before the clock ran out on the 2015 session.
Cuomo subsequently said the one-year appointment of Schneiderman fulfills his promise to the family members, which include Eric Garner’s mother, Gwen Carr; and Constance Malcolm, mother of Ramarley Graham, a Bronx teenager who was shot and killed by NYPD Officer Richard Haste in 2012.
Haste was initially indicted by the Bronx DA for manslaughter, but a judge threw out the case on a legal technicality.
But the family members are not happy with the one-year limit on the AG’s special prosecutor duties, saying it calls into question what will happen to cases that fall outside that timeframe. Also, they want all police abuse cases included in the AG’s purview, and believe the scope Cuomo has outlined is too narrow.
The advocates have launched a series of videos calling on Cuomo to keep his commitment to them. One, which is running on NY1, features Carr. Another, provided exclusively to SoP, stars Malcolm who says straight to the camera:
“Governor Cuomo, I thought we had an understanding for you signing an executive order for a special prosecutor for all police killings, not for one year.”
“…Governor Cuomo keep the commitment you made to me and other New York families who have lost loved ones to police killing,” Malcolm continues. “Don’t backtrack. Be a national leader and advance equal justice. Cuomo do not backtrack. Keep your word to the families.
Jul 1st - 5:31 am
Gov. Andrew Cuomo is in New York City with no public schedule.
At 9 a.m., former Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith, who was found guilty on corruption charges in February, will be sentenced, federal court, Judge Karas’s courtroom, Room 521, White Plains.
At 9:45 a.m., Rep. Kathleen Rice and local officials hold a press conference to call on the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to approve South Nassau Communities Hospital’s request to open and operate a 24-hour Emergency Services Department in Long Beach, Long Beach Urgent Care Center, 325 East Bay Dr., (corner of Monroe Blvd.), Long Beach.
At 10:15 a.m., LG Kathy Hochul tours a minority-owned business celebrating its 25th anniversary with Sen. Toby Stavisky, Assemblyman Michael Simanowitz, Queens BP Melinda Katz, and NYC Councilman Paul Vallone, Crystal Window and Door Systems, 31-10 Whitestone Expressway, Flushing, Queens.
At 10:30 a.m., following a prayer breakfast in Harlem, pastor, presidential advisor and former Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom Suzan “Sujay” Johnson Cook, will announce her campaign to represent NY-13 (currently represented by retiring Rep. Charles Rangel), Settepani Harlem Restaurant, 196 Malcolm X Blvd., Harlem.
At 11:30 a.m., AG Eric Schneiderman will make a “major announcement” about affordable housing, Sunset Park Library, 5108 4th Ave., Brooklyn.
At 1:30 p.m., a coalition of elected officials, led by Assembly Deputy Majority Leader Phil Ramos, will protest GOP 2016 candidate Donald Trump’s anti-Mexican statements, calling on Macy’s to sever ties with the billionaire real estate developer and stop selling his products, Macy’s, 151 W. 34th St., Manhattan.
Also at 1:30 p.m., NYC Councilmen Dan Garodnick and Ben Kallos, Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney and Assemblyman Dan Quart discuss the release of a report about remaining construction of the planned Second Avenue Subway line of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s MTA New York City Transit agency; southeast corner, Second Avenue and 72nd Street, Manhattan.
The long-simmering tensions between NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo boiled over, as de Blasio went on the offensive less than a week after an anonymous Cuomo administration official (possibly the governor himself) called the mayor “bumbling and incompetent”.
“What I found was he engaged in his own sense of strategies, his own political machi nations, and what we’ve often seen is if someone disagrees with him openly, some kind of revenge or vendetta follows,” de Blasio told NY1’s Errol Louis.
The mayor is betting that he can outflank a governor who wields enormous power over his administration’s affairs, even as he needs him as a negotiating partner.
Ken Lovett says this level of hostilities between the NYC mayor and the NY governor hasn’t been seen since the early days of former Gov. George Pataki and ex-Mayor Rudy Giuliani, and believes de Blasio is taking a big risk, since the city remains a creature of the state.
John Podhoretz called de Blasio’s decision to publicly criticize Cuomo “refreshing, but nuts”, adding: “The use of the word ‘vendetta’ was…perhaps a bit much.”
After unloading on Cuomo, de Blasio departed for a nine-day family vacation to the Western and Southern US. City Hall didn’t specify which states they would visit or whether the family would travel by plane or car.
The Daily News editorializes: “(L)ecturing that Cuomo should be more a philosopher king than a transactor borders on egotistical dementia. In fact, although de Blasio doesn’t believe it because he came home from Albany without every last jot and tittle, the mayor made out well in Albany because Cuomo made deals with the Republicans.”
A “new leadership team” is being installed as part of a major shakeup at the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, from which Richard Matt and David Sweat escaped June 6. The superintendent and 11 other staffers have been suspended.
Matt’s brother believes that the prison escapee went straight to hell when he was shot and killed Friday in the Adirondacks. “That is where he deserves to be,” Wayne Schimpf told The Buffalo News, speaking at length for the first time since Matt was killed. “It might sound bad, but I am happy…For almost 20 years, there hasn’t been a day when I have not been afraid that he was coming to get me.”
Sweat, still recovering from his wounds at Albany Med and is in fair condition, has told investigators that he made the practice run to test the escape route the night before he and Matt broke out of prison. He also said they sawed holes in their respective cells six months before their departure.
Though it may have “shocked” the governor to learn corrections officers were involved in the breakout of Matt and Sweat, experts say fraternizing between inmates and guards is actually fairly common.
Upstate lawmakers said they were not surprised that their districts did not receive millions of dollars in extra school funding, despite an offer Cuomo made late in the legislative session. They never took the governor’s pledge seriously to begin with, some members told Capital.
Jun 30th - 9:24 pm
One day after codifying the state’s fracking ban – the signature issue of his tenure at the helm of the DEC – the agency’s commissioner, Joe Martens, has informed his senior staffers that he plans to depart in July.
In an email being sent to all agency employees, Martens says it has been an “honor, an education and a gift” to head the DEC since 2011 – the first year Gov. Andrew Cuomo took office. He also informs staffers that his executive deputy, Marc Gerstman, will serve as acting commissioner “to ensure a seamless transition and continuation of the many initiatives we have in the works.”
An administrative source familiar with Martens’ plans says he will be returning to the Open Space Institute, of which he was president from 1998 to 2011, as a senior advisor.
“I could not be prouder of the way you responded to each and every emergency Mother Nature threw at New York State (and there were many),” Martens writes in his email. “Most recently, our Rangers and ECOs demonstrated their unique skills to help track down and bring dangerous felons to justice. I’m also proud of the leadership we have shown in virtually every one of our program areas.”
“…Throughout all of these initiatives, you continually worked to improve and streamline the way we do business,” the departing commissioner continues. “I am perhaps most proud of the way you have worked creatively with our local government partners as well as our stakeholders: business, agricultural and environmental, to solve problems. Collectively, we have put into practice the belief that when we work together, the public and private sector, we are all better off.”
Though he will likely be best remembered for heading the DEC during the long debate over fracking, which started during former Gov. David Paterson’s administration – in other words, before Martens took the helm – a number of other environmental initiatives were started or accomplished on the outgoing commissioner’s watch.
In his email, Martens mentions everything from lowering the cap on greenhouse gas emissions and securing funding for long-neglected flood control structures and coastal erosion projects to banning the sale and importation of elephant and rhinoceros ivory and undertaking “one of the largest additions to the forest preserve in the state’s history.”
“And, at long last, we concluded our review of hydraulic fracturing and decided that there was simply too many unknowns and the possible risks too great to allow it to go forward,” Martens concludes.
Martens is one of the few commissioners from Cuomo’s first term still on the job. Rumors of his departure have been circulating for some time, and it was once speculated that he might be replaced by former Sen. Mark Grisanti, a Buffalo Republican who was the last “yes” voting GOP senator still in the chamber until he lost his seat in the 2014 elections to Democratic Sen. Marc Panepinto.
Last December, after the initial announcement that the Cuomo administration had decided to ban fracking in the Marcellus shale, I asked Martens during a CapTon interview if he had plans to depart his DEC post.
“I have no plans,” he responded with a laugh. “If I was going to leave, I would have left before this decision came out, because this took a lot of work.”
Jun 30th - 5:53 pm
The five winners for New York State licenses to grow, market, and sell medical marijuana could be announced as early as Friday.
Pope Francis will visit a school in East Harlem and celebrate Mass at Madison Square Garden during his September trip to the United States, which will also include an address to Congress and a visit to a Philadelphia correctional facility, according to an itinerary released by the Vatican.
David Sweat’s condition has been upgraded to “fair.”
Clinton County District Attorney Andrew Wylie said he is unaware of any FBI probe into a stream of heroin into Clinton Correctional Facility that may have involved prison officers in connection with the June 6 breakout of Sweat and his now-deceased fellow escapee, Richard Matt.
Sweat and Matt reportedly conducted a dry run of the breakout the night before they fled. They began sawing through the back walls of their cells roughly six months before they staged their escape.
Federal officials say they plan to continue to withhold the name of the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agent who fatally shot Matt – at least for now.
The angry wife of the ousted Clinton Correctional Facility warden said Gov. Andrew Cuomo has made her husband and his right-hand men scapegoats for the daring prison break by two killers.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, a Republican 2016 hopeful, spoke to roughly 75 people at a breakfast fundraiser at the Rich Atrium in Buffalo this morning, but he didn’t say much to reporters afterward.
New York’s highest court ruled in favor of New York University’s expansion plan, a decision that paves the way for the school to grow in Greenwich Village by some 2 million square feet.
“Some other politicians get up and really say some dumb things,” John Catsimatidis said. “I mean Donald Trump is a good friend of mine…but holy cow!”
The 2015 legislative session was the busiest since 2008 in terms bill passage, a New York Public Interest Research Group analysis of the legislative session shows.
With the legislative session over, advocates pushing for a New York state “aid-in-dying” law to allow terminally ill patients receive lethal doses of medication are planning their off-season strategy.
Gov. Chris Christie is running for president, he announced today at his alma mater, Livingston High School in New Jersey, becoming the 14th Republican candidate to enter the 2016 presidential race. He says he’s running to “change the world.”
NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio helped United Nations Secretary General Ban ki-Moon register for a municipal identification card this morning, promoting the benefits of having the card.
The University of Missouri at Kansas City settled for Chelsea Clinton – and her $65,000 speaking fee – to headline a 2014 gala in the place of her mother, Hillary Clinton, whose fee was $275,000.
Presidential candidate Clinton launched her official Pinterest today, sharing favorite shots of dreamy sunsets and adorable babies.
A transformer fire that shut down the Indian Point nuclear facility for weeks was caused by an insulation failure, according to the plant’s operator, Entergy.
If SUNY is going to oversee more charter schools, it’s going to need more money, the chair of its charter-school committee said.
The supervisor of a cluster of Long Island group homes for the disabled is charged with stealing the identity of a client.
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone raised $500,000 for his annual golf outing at Bethpage State Park Monday. But no one took him up on his new offer to play a very private nine holes on an empty course with donors willing to pay $45,000.
On the heels of the PEF vote that appears to have unseated President Susan Kent, union trustee Maureen Kellman has resigned as chair of its contract team, according to a “Labor on the Move” communication to the union’s members.
Jun 30th - 2:52 pm
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio blasted Gov. Andrew Cuomo in an exclusive interview with NY1’s Errol Louis, blasting the governor he says is consumed with “transactional” politics.
“What I found was he engaged in his own sense of strategies, his own political machinations and what we’ve often seen is if someone disagrees with him openly, some kind of revenge or vendetta follows,” de Blasio said of the governor.
The broadsides against Cuomo are the culmination of an increasingly tenuous relationship between the state’s top elected official and the more liberal Democrat who was elected with a wave of progressive support in the city.
The relationship between Cuomo and de Blasio publicly had been one in which the two men carefully sought to avoid any on-the-record critiques, even as the governor was seen as purposefully undermining the mayor on key issues such as an Atlantic Yards land deal, the terms of extending the 421a tax abatement, mayoral control of New York City schools, universal pre-Kindergarten and a city-wide increase in the minimum wage.
De Blasio was likely venting both exasperation with his fellow Democrat, but also demonstrated a willingness to critique a governor who has fallen out of favor with liberal advocates, especially when it comes to economic issues and elected a Democratic-controlled state Senate.
In the interview, de Blasio knocked Cuomo for working to closely with Republican-led Senate at the expense of the Assembly, which is dominated by Democrats from New York City.
“I don’t believe the Assembly had a real working partner in the governor or the Senate in terms of getting things done for the people of this city and in many cases the people of this state,” de Blasio said.
In one stinging rejoinder during the interview, de Blasio took aim at the Cuomo administration’s habit of conducting background briefings and providing anonymous jabs at the mayor and his policies.
“And I want to hasten to say there was some interesting back and forth last week and some unnamed sources well-placed in the Cuomo administration had a few things to say. I’m here in front of you on record saying what I believe,” he said.
De Blasio vented that policy proposals are undermined or in some cases “rejected or manipulated” when he tries to find common ground with the Cuomo.
“I find that to be a lack of leadership because here was an opportunity actually to get something done for people,” de Blasio said.
The mayor is hardly the first Democrat this year to criticize Cuomo, who has been knocked by state lawmakers and city council members for the better part of the year following his re-election last November. But de Blasio is also the most prominent elected Democrat to do so, representing a broader falling out between a governor who is moderate on fiscal issues and a liberal wing of the party that sees itself ascending ahead of the 2016 elections.
Mayors and governors of New York over the last half-century have always had contentious relationships, dating back to Nelson Rockefeller and John Linsday, Ed Koch and Mario Cuomo and George Pataki and Rudy Giuliani.
But both Cuomo and de Blasio insisted they would be different, emphasizing their history together at the Department of Housing and Urban Development and ties to the Clinton wing of the Democratic Party.
In the early days of the de Blasio administration, the mayor sought to carefully cultivate Cuomo as a potentially ally in Albany, where Senate Republicans have been especially hostile to his proposals even before he sought to actively campaign for a Democratic-led majority in the chamber.
De Blasio personally vouched for Cuomo with the labor-backed and liberal Working Families Party, which only 13 months ago openly considered not giving the centrist governor its ballot line. Weeks after the WFP fight, de Blasio endorsed Cuomo for a second term as governor and introduced him as the state Democratic Convention in Suffolk County.
But the era of good feelings do not last, nor did it truly materialize for Cuomo and de Blasio.
This year, Cuomo pushed back against efforts to allow local governments to set their own minimum wage after pledging to back some version of municipal control.
He rejected de Blasio’s call for a permanent extension of mayoral control of New York City schools and initially supported three years before settling on 12 months with the Legislature.
At the same time, Cuomo distanced himself from the mayor’s push to expand affordable housing opportunities under the 421a tax abatement extension, frequently citing the AFL-CIO’s concerns about the lack of a prevailing wage provision for the construction sector.
The mayor was not without his own faults: De Blasio, in turn, had been increasingly frustrated with the byzantine politics of Albany, which he found difficult to navigate.
Adding to the tensions, de Blasio was said to have hired Karen Hinton, the wife of former top Cuomo aide Howard Glaser, without giving the governor a heads up on the appointment.
The bad blood culminated last week, when a Cuomo administration official — who appeared in direct quotes to speak in the recognizable cadence and syntax of the governor himself — blasted the mayor in a background briefing.
“He is more politically oriented in terms of his approach … and then he makes it almost impossible for him to achieve success,” the Cuomo official said, according to The Daily News.
The interview comes just as de Blasio is about to leave the city for a summer vacation through the west and southwest. It airs tonight on NY1’s Inside City Hall at 7 p.m.
Updated: Cuomo spokeswoman Melissa DeRosa responded in a statement.
“For those new to the process, it takes coalition building and compromise to get things done in government,” she said. “We wish the Mayor well on his vacation.”
Jun 30th - 1:15 pm
As Gov. Andrew Cuomo leans on the state Department of Education to aggressively combat transgender discrimination in schools, Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch on Tuesday said his administration had not provided needed funding to oversee such issues.
“The present governor does not seem to be a fan of the department,” Tisch said in an interview on WCNY’s The Capitol Pressroom. “I think every governor during their term in office is frustrated by their role in the state education department. But that being said, that should not be a reason to defund the department or not to give it the resources that are adequate in order to fulfill its obligations to the citizen of the state.”
Cuomo has been at odds with the department on a variety of issues, ranging from the roll out of the Common Core education standards to a push to ease the impact of the newly adopted teacher evaluation measure, which was approved as part of the state budget.
Tisch said the department remains mindful of bullying and student harassment, but not being able to hire the staff to provide broader oversight on a range of issues makes such a task daunting.
“I think everyone is very mindful of bullying,” Tisch said. “We have done a lot of work with superintendents around the state, with school districts around the state, talking about anti-bullying policy.”
Tisch pointed to last year, when the state charged the department with overseeing the implementation of new pre-Kindergarten programs without additional staff, which she said amounted to an unfunded mandate.
“We were given the responsibility without one extra penny to handle that responsibility,” she said.
The chancellor also knocked what she said was an effort to make SED into essentially a punching bag, primarily by the Cuomo administration.
“The state education department is not an executive department of government and therefore when it comes to time to fund the state education department, often there is no one carrying that water to get appropriate levels of funding to create appropriate levels of staffing so the education department can in fact what it is constitutionally under its authority to do,” she said.
Cuomo is not the first governor to be frustrated by a lack of control over education policy in the state. The Board of Regents is in essence elected by the Democratic-controlled Assembly, which in turn appoints an education commissioner.
Cuomo indicated late last year he wanted to take a more active role in SED policy and a top aide raised the possibility of pursuing broader control over the department in a letter to Tisch and then-Commissioner John King.
Instead, Cuomo placed an emphasis on a new teacher evaluation system, whose adoption was linked to education funding in the budget. School districts must enact the new criteria by November or lose out on a boost in state aid.
The Board of Regents this month indicated it would allow for some districts demonstrating hardships in enacting the new evaluation system to extend the deadline to do so without losing the funding.
Tisch acknowledged in the interview the debate over the law, which she called a “very troubled, unattractive piece of legislation” would continue into next year.
Jun 30th - 11:27 am
As the FBI begins to investigate the circumstances of the June escape at Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora as well as broader corruption concerns, the state Department of Corrections and Community Service on Tuesday placed 12 prison employees, including members of its leadership team, on administrative leave.
The leave includes three members of the prison’s executive team and nine staff members of the prison’s security team, DOCCS said in a statement.
Assistant Commissioner for Correctional Facilities James O’Gorman will oversee the leadership transition this week.
“Staffing for the security positions will be addressed through procedures outlined in the union contract,” DOCCS said. “Due to the ongoing review and investigations, additional information is not available at this time.”
In addition to the FBI probe, the state inspector general is conducting an administrative investigation of the escape of convicted killers Richard Matt and David Sweat.
Both men conducted a daring escape from the prison on June 6, which resulted in three-week manhunt across the North Country. The manhunt ended when Matt was shot and killed on Friday and Sweat was wounded and captured on Sunday by police.
Jun 30th - 11:04 am
Approved county budgets that overrode the state’s limit on property tax levy increases has dropped by more than half in the last four years, a report from Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s office released on Tuesday found.
In 2012, the first year local governments and school districts were required to adhered to the cap approved in June 2011, 15 counties overrode the limit. This year, only six chose to do so.
The cap, which impacts the 57 counties outside of New York City, limits property tax increases to 2 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is lower. In the last four years, the tax cap is essentially been under 2 percent given the relatively flat inflation growth.
The slow growth has limited county revenue and could make future budgeting difficult, DiNapoli said.
“Counties are holding the line on property taxes,” said DiNapoli. “If inflation continues its downward trend, however, counties will need to tighten their budgets even more to stay within the tax cap and deliver services that homeowners expect. I believe the financial decisions for county leaders next year will be especially difficult.”
County government levies have increased overall between 2012 and 2015, from $5.1 billion to $5.4 billion.
The tax cap was re-approved this month for an additional four years with modifications that were not as sweeping as some local government and school district leaders had sought, such as making the cap easier to override and ending the linkage to the rate of inflation.
Instead, lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo approved new exemptions for PILOTs and capital spending for BOCES programs.
Jun 30th - 9:19 am
Democrat Aaron Woolf in an email to supporters on Tuesday announced he would not make a second bid for the North Country congressional seat he lost to Republican Elise Stefanik last year.
“While it’s an honor to even be considered, I want you to be among the first to know that I’ve decided against a run for Congress in 2016,” Woolf wrote in the email sent this morning. “Of course, that doesn’t mean our fight to keep Upstate New York moving forward is over. Far from it. I intend to stay deeply involved in this effort – but, for now, as a member of our community, rather than a candidate for public office.”
Woolf, a documentary filmmaker, indicated in the email he would continue to push for issues such as environmental protection, education and investment in capital projects.
“Infrastructure, education, and other long-term investments are the foundation of our rural economy and must be our primary focus. That’s a tough thing for a political class focused on short election cycles and short-term political victories,” he wrote. “But I believe our unique North Country perspective can transcend this polarized climate, and allow us to focus on ideas and innovation above party rhetoric and politicians.”
With Woolf out of the race, Democrats may turn to retired Army Colonel Mike Derrick in the 2016 contest. Both Woolf and Derrick met with Democrats in Warren County to talk about next year’s race.
The district, though rural and heavily Republican, has been considered a tossup seat in recent years.
The sprawling 21st congressional district last year was vacated by Democratic Rep. Bill Owens, who initially won the seat in a closely fought race in 2009 against Doug Hoffman, the Conservative Party candidate (Republican Assemblywoman Dede Scozzafava dropped her bid in October and backed Owens in the special election).
The seat went to Democratic hands for the first time in a century after President Obama appointed incumbent John McHugh to become the secretary of the Army.
Owens beat back a challenge from Republican Matt Doheny in 2010 to win the seat outright and again in 2012.
The district last year was seemingly wide open with two relatively unknown major party candidates who were criticized for relative lack of ties to the area.
Stefanik handily won the seat in 2014 with 53 percent of the vote (Green Party candidate Matt Funiciello, a baker from Glens Falls, received 10 percent of the vote).
Jun 30th - 8:45 am
From the Morning Memo:
Local government advocates and the state’s teachers unions banded together this legislative session to seek broad changes to the state’s cap on property tax increases, which they say has stifled the ability to raise revenues in a continuously challenging economy.
Also included in that coalition were school districts themselves, who backed a push to change the cap so a supermajority is no longer needed to override the measure on the budgetary level as well as end linking the cap to the rate of inflation.
Ultimately, the changes to cap fell short of what the groups wanted: Carve outs were made for payments-in-lieu-of-taxes and capital expenses for BOCES.
The measure itself was approved for another four years despite a push from Senate Republicans and Gov. Andrew Cuomo to make the cap permanent (Cuomo late in the session quietly dropped the call for a permanent tax cap, as did a campaign from the state Democratic Committee, which he controls).
Though the changes were seemingly minor compared to what was sought, school district advocates in New York aren’t entirely declaring that a loss, given any changes show more could be in store down the road.
“I think that it’s incremental change,” said Dave Albert of the New York State School Boards Association in a Capital Tonight interview. “I don’t think any of us expected there to be widespread changes.”
Still, the cap itself, a signature economic achievement for Cuomo in 2011, seemed unlikely for any major changes.
“This had been pretty sacred and the governor seemed very reluctant to do anything in terms of changes to the cap,” Albert said.
Continuing to link the cap to inflation remains one of the bigger concerns for school districts, as the consumer price index has been largely flat over the last four years.
“School districts don’t buy the same things as consumers — health insurance, it’s not unusual for it to go up double digit percentage rates,” Lowry said. “Next year the expectation is we could have a cap around zero percent.”
Cap supporters point out the vast majority of school districts have been able to approve budgets that plan to raise levies under the limit and only a handful sought spending plans above the limit.
Meanwhile, spending overall at the district level as started to flatten out, even as the state starts to provide more aid after its own coffers filled in the aftermath of the recession.
“We saw for many years school districts cutting programs,” Albert said. “This year they were able to keep tax levies low and even some districts were able to start to restore those programs. But it because of the GEA reduction, it was because of the significant state aid increase.”
School districts are able to live under the cap in part thanks to a boost in state aid and a partial reduction in the Gap Elimination Adjustment (a full phase out is expected in next year’s budget), which they say makes budgeting slightly easier, for now.
“That makes it more possible for school districts to live within this tight tax cap,” New York State Council of School Superintendents’ Bob Lowry said in the same interview.on the show last night. “But if times go bad and that kind of aid disappears, school districts will face more difficult choices going forward.”