ALBANY – Legislators have released details of the newly adopted 2015-2016 budget that was passed just hours after the midnight deadline on Wednesday.
After weeks of closed-door meetings, lawmakers reached an agreement on the $142 billion budget which includes contentious education reforms, ethics reform for state officials, and a $5.4 billion investment in New York State’s economy.
“This $142 billion budget is the most meaningful that we have agreed to in many years, not because of what we are spending but because of how we are spending it,” Cuomo stated on Wednesday. “We are not just maintaining services and the status quo with this budget. We are investing in a new future for our state.”
In education, the financial plan includes $1.3 billion additional in education aid, as well as revisions to teacher evaluations, new rules for the dismissal of ineffective teachers, and changes that allow the state to take over failing schools. It further overhauls the process of teacher tenure by extending tenure eligibility from three years to four years. Instead of seniority, tenure will be granted on performance, 50 percent of which will be based on teacher evaluations.
In response to the education aid portion of the budget, State Senator James Seward (R-51st District) commented: “This year, more than any other in recent memory, the education aid discussion drifted toward other issues ... While a compromise, I believe the overall education package delivers for students, schools and property taxpayers, and is a major step forward to ensuring a bright future for children who attend our local schools.”
In light of multiple allegations of corruption among state legislators, the budget encompasses ethics reforms that implement income disclosure laws for public officials, and pension forfeiture for officials who are convicted of public corruption. Additionally, it expands the requirement for them to disclose independent expenditures.
Another $5.4 billion will be invested in the state’s economy. The budget directs money toward items with longterm potential to grow the economy, including a competitive $1.5 billion “Upstate Revitalization Initiative” available to seven regions, $1.3 billion for the New York State Thruway system, and $500 million for broadband internet infrastructure development throughout rural areas of the state – an initiative local legislators agreed to in January. An additional $65 million is being made available for ports and rail hub infrastructure, $40 million of which is earmarked for the Port of Oswego to link with the Port of New York and create additional intermodal rail yards in Syracuse and Binghamton.
The budget also raises the age of criminal responsibility in New York State by including funding that will be immediately available to local government to ensure readiness, as well as other funding that will be available upon enactment of legislation to raise the age that is expected this legislative session. New York had been one of only two states in the country with a criminal age of responsibility below 18 years of age.
Other budget highlights include:
• $1 billion capital investment in hospitals
• $1 billion for infrastructure maintenance for roads and bridges
• $150 million for the Regional Economic Development Councils competitive grant program