Senate budget focuses on key concerns

It is full steam ahead in Albany as work to complete an on-time state budget is underway. While meeting the April 1 deadline is important, it is even more vital that the final product is fiscally responsible AND meets the needs of families, businesses, and community groups.

The senate budget resolution, which I helped craft, includes a number of key initiatives that will be valuable to our state’s future. Proposals to invest substantially in education, help make the cost of a college education more affordable, address the continuing heroin epidemic, and cut middle class taxes – while holding the line on state spending – are among the highlights.

At the top of the list for many people is education, and the senate budget comes through, providing a record $1.6 billion in education funding and completely erasing the Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA) which has pinched schools since it was first imposed over my opposition in 2010. The proposal includes a year-to-year 7.15 percent school aid increase of $1.655 billion. In total, the $24.8 billion education proposal would provide a record amount of education funding, with a large portion of funding directed to low wealth, high need rural school districts.

Moving forward, I will work to protect this investment in our future and ensure that our low-wealth, high-need rural schools receive their fair share of state aid. Education is one of the biggest portions of the state budget, and for good reason. This funding is critical to meet classroom needs so students can excel and to help keep local property taxes in check.

Several provisions are also included to address the price tag that accompanies a college education. College costs can be staggering and that’s why I am extremely pleased that the senate plan will increase support for programs that help students graduate college with a diploma not outrageous financial debt.

The senate’s proposal includes a significant increase in support for the Tuition Assistance Program (TAP). The senate budget increases income eligibility and TAP awards so that more middle class families can receive help with higher education expenses. When fully implemented in fall 2017, the senate proposal will provide $87 million in additional TAP awards, with a guarantee of $1,000 to any student from a family with a net taxable income of less than $100,000. The increase is over two years, with $38 million in additional TAP awards starting in fall 2016 and $49 million in fall 2017.

The senate budget proposal creates a new state income tax exemption for student loan interest, saving eligible New Yorkers a total of $40 million and increases the amount of the Tuition Tax Credit to save students and their families a total of $55 million in the first year, and $255 million when fully implemented in 2022.

It was made clear at a recent hearing of the Senate Heroin Task Force which I hosted, that while important steps have been taken to help those in need, we need to continue to fund prevention, treatment, recovery, and education efforts. To help address the growth in heroin and opioid abuse in communities throughout the state, the senate budget includes a total of $167 million to strengthen prevention, treatment, recovery, and education services. This represents an increase of more than 18 percent above the governor’s budget proposal.

One other point of emphasis is the senate’s Middle Class Income Tax Relief Program which I detailed last week. The plan establishes the lowest middle class tax rate in more than 70 years while also offering significant savings for farmers and small business owners

While there are plenty of negotiations ahead, I am encouraged that a sixth consecutive on-time budget is attainable. More importantly, the senate budget offers a fiscally sound blueprint that answers the needs of those who live and work in my senate district and across New York State.

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