A number of important issues are under discussion in Albany and development of the state budget is at the top of the list. The budget is due by April 1st, and I believe we can meet that deadline for a sixth straight year. But there are several other budget considerations that trump timeliness.
My goal is to adopt an on-time spending plan that addresses the concerns that individuals discuss with me on a daily basis. The budget needs to keep state spending in check, encourage economic growth and help create new career opportunities, lower taxes, provide funding for upstate roads and bridges on par with funding being directed to New York City, and direct education aid to our neediest schools. No budget bills have been passed yet, but a great deal of work is taking place that I believe will lead to a final product that addresses these priorities.
To get the budget discussion started, joint legislative hearings are already underway. These hearings, each of which focuses on a programmatic area, are intended to provide the appropriate legislative committees with public input on the governorís budget proposal. The hearings are webcast live so anyone interested can here from state agency and department heads as they answer specific budget questions from senators and assemblymen. The hearings continue through Tuesday, February 9, 2016.
Once the hearings conclude, senate budget subcommittees will commence. Essentially, the committees take a specific portion of the governorís budget proposal, dissect it line by line, place it under a microscope, and fine tune the plan to make sure it is fiscally sound and in line with public priorities.
I have been named to three of the senate budget subcommittees - education, health, and higher education. By serving on these committees I am able to have direct influence on state aid to local school districts, funding for SUNY schools and community colleges, and programs that play a role in the health and well-being of all New Yorkers.
The education sub-committee is one of the most meaningful groups. I have served on this particular sub-committee on a number of occasions and continue to request that I be a part of this panel. My advocacy on this committee has helped direct additional state aid funding to our neediest schools.
This year, as I meet with my colleagues and discuss the education budget my leading priority is to eliminate the Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA) which has cost schools locally and across the state millions of dollars. I voted against the GEA when it was first imposed and have been working to make sure our schools are paid back ever since. This must be the year that the GEA is finally retired. We must also make certain that other aid categories are properly funded and that state education aid is sent where it is needed most Ė low wealth, high need school districts.
The higher education portion of the budget is also vital to our region because so many SUNY schools and community colleges are located here. It is imperative that our on-campus facilities and programs are top-notch to attract the best and brightest students and prepare them for success after graduation. These schools also play an important role in our local economy and that cannot be forgotten.
If you interested in learning more about the state budget I would encourage you to visit my website, www.seward.nysenate.gov. A special budget section is available that is updated on a regular basis and includes all of the latest information on the state budget. For example, you can now find the senate finance committee analysis of the governorís budget proposal which breaks down the complicated budget bills into easy to read summaries.
Finally, if you have any thoughts, feel free to send me an email through the website to add your voice to the budget debate.