Governor Andrew M. Cuomo unveils the first signature proposal of his 2016 agenda – his push to restore economic justice by making New York the first state in the nation to enact a $15 minimum wage for all workers. (181367)
Credit: Kevin P. Coughlin/Office of the Governor

For all of the criticism of the negotiating process, for all of the back and forth of the so-called dog and pony show, New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the legislators in Albany agreed to and signed off on a new budget that has left many satisfied, yet still pining for a few extra things.

Whether it’s infrastructure, drug issues, education, the environment or school funding, Cuomo’s budget for the 2016-17 fiscal year left many satiated.

“For the past six years we have defied the odds—cutting taxes and limiting the growth of government after decades of financial mismanagement, and investing wisely in schools, infrastructure and Upstate communities at levels never seen before,” said Cuomo in a statement. “We led the way for the nation on marriage equality, gun control and environmental protection while others simply debated. This year, we are tackling another one of the greatest issues of our time by reclaiming economic justice for hard-working people and their families.”

The biggest accomplishments include the passing of a new $15 minimum wage and paid family leave. Both have been topics of discussion for several years with the Fight for $15 movement first starting in New York City. But the new budget will also be providing $24.8 billion in school aid, ending the Gap Elimination Adjustment, providing $55 billion in transportation (including $27 billion for the Department of Transportation and Thruway Authority and $27 billion for the MTA) and cutting the personal income tax. Albany officials say that cutting the personal income tax will lead to annual savings of close to $4.2 billion by 2025.

But the minimum wage and paid family leave drew most of the praise from union leaders, activists and other politicians.

“This budget agreement puts our entire state on the path to a $15 minimum wage, which will lift up millions of hardworking New Yorkers, including health care workers, childcare workers and security guards,” said George Gresham, president of 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers, in a statement. “The majority of those who will benefit are adults working full-time, many of whom support families.”

“Low-wage workers, retail workers and all workers will now be able to better provide for themselves and their families,” added Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union President Stuart Appelbaum in a statement. “When people go to work each day, they deserve to be able to support themselves and to earn a decent living. That’s what it’s supposed to be about.”

New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer called Cuomo’s budget “progressive” and “responsible.” Debra Ness, of the National Partnership for Women & Families, called paid family leave “history in the making.” She added, “When the new program takes full effect, New Yorkers will have the health and economic security paid leave provides, including an estimated 6.4 million New York workers who are currently not guaranteed any paid time off when a loved one is seriously ill or injured or a new child arrives.”

Cuomo’s budget also addresses some of the more precautionary approaches that governments around the country have had to society’s growing opiate and heroin abuse problem. There will be $25 million slotted for the Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services to be used for a Heroin and Opiate Treatment Prevention Package. There will be an additional $2 million for supporting Substance Abuse Prevention and Intervention Specialists, which provides programs in New York City schools.

“Too many lives have been lost or torn apart by substance use and addiction, and I am so proud that this year’s budget allocation recognizes the magnitude of the crisis in New York State,” said Chair of the Committee on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Linda Rosenthal. “We will continue to implement a comprehensive and compassionate plan to provide increased funding to expand the programs and services that individuals suffering from heroin and opioid abuse so desperately need.”

Cuomo’s budget also included $175 million in funding to convert struggling schools into community schools, which have shown to be more successful in improving academic outcomes for its students. Seen as a center for support of all kinds (social, health, academic, emotional), the news drew the praise of educational activists.

“The community schools initiative is very exciting and has great promise to significantly improve student outcomes in some of the neediest schools in the state. Community schools have been highly successful in other parts of the country and right here in New York,” said Billy Easton, executive director of the Alliance for Quality Education, in a statement. “While the overall budget does not address the fundamental need to fully fund Foundation Aid, community schools is a very important victory that will provide hope to students and parents alike.”

But that didn’t mean that Easton was a fan of everything education related in the bill. He, along with Make The Road Co-Executive Director Javier Valdés, stated that the budget didn’t take into account race and income when it comes to education. The Foundation Aid formula saw an increase of $627 million, but both men say schools are still owed approximately $4.4 billion in aid,0 with 77 percent of that owed to “high need” districts.

“The education budget is a slap in the face to English Language Learners,” said Valdés in a statement. “These students need the extra resources in order to succeed in schools. But the state, by not making a clear plan to fund the Campaign for Fiscal Equity through the Foundation Aid formula, is telling these students and their families that their needs don’t matter.”

Along the education realm, the AmNews reported last week that Cuomo restored the $485 million that he threatened to cut from the City University of New York and pass on the cost to the City Hall. CUNY Chancellor James Milliken said he’s happy about the restoration, but he also realizes that more work needs to be done.

“Investments in critical maintenance for CUNY’s facilities and base aid for community colleges were increased, which is positive,” stated Milliken. “The parties did not agree on either an extension of the predictable tuition policy, which the CUNY Board of Trustees supported, or funding in lieu of tuition. While some additional operating funding was provided for specific programs, the loss of tuition revenue or its equivalent will impact CUNY’s ability to make needed investments in its faculty and staff at a time of record enrollment and increasing graduation rates.”

But Milliken, along with members of the Professional Staff Congress (the union that represents CUNY’s faculty and staff), aren’t happy that funding wasn’t provided for settlement of CUNY’s labor contract situation. PSC-CUNY members have been working without a contract for six years.

In his statement, Milliken said “while we are concerned that the parties did not agree on funding at this time, we are encouraged by the statement of state Director of the Budget Mujica in the Governor’s press conference last night that the state would address the funding issue once the contracts are settled.”