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NYSNYS NEWS: Legislature completes 2015-16 budget passage, late for first time since Cuomo took office in 2011.
NYSNYS News
NYSNYS NEWS: Legislature completes 2015-16 budget passage, late for first time since Cuomo took office in 2011.

By Kyle Hughes
NYSNYS News


ALBANY, N.Y. (April 1) – Legislators and Gov. Andrew Cuomo completed the passage of budget bills early today, sealing final approval of a 2015-16 spending plan totaling an estimated $149 billion.

The final plan included controversial changes sought by Cuomo to make it easier to get rid of bad teachers. The proposal was fiercely resisted by the teachers union but was made more palatable by pumping $1.35 billion in additional state aid for public schools. The increase will help school districts avoid layoffs of staff triggered by rising costs and declining enrollments.

"It's not an ideal world (and) it's not an ideal situation," Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) told reporters in announcing the Assembly had made a deal behind closed doors on teacher evaluations.

In a statement sent to the media, New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) called the deal "a disgrace. The teacher evaluation system imposed by Governor Cuomo is a sham, and he now owns it. From the beginning, the state of New York has witnessed a vengeful governor refusing to engage in honest dialogue about the quality of our public schools, or how to improve teaching and learning."

"@nysut opposes this disgraceful education budget and we are asking legislators to vote NO," NYSUT President Karen Magee posted on Twitter as lawmakers began to vote. "Call your legislator now!"

Heastie said there were reservations among Assembly Democrats, stalwart allies of public employee unions, but the primary goal was to pass an on-time budget. The state's new fiscal year began at 12:01 a.m. today, with the Assembly not wrapping up its work until 3:12 a.m.. Until this year, the budget was passed on time since Cuomo took office in 2011.

The new budget includes changes in ethics rules for members of the Legislature, including more disclosure of outside employment.

The change was made as a result of the indictment of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver on bribery and corruption charges that could send him to prison for the rest of his life. Silver continues to serve in the Legislature is voting on the budget this week.

But the proposed solutions were derided as halfway measures.

"New York needs a much stronger response than the ethics bill finally presented mid-afternoon today by the governor and the legislature to solve Albany’s crime wave of political corruption," Common Cause, NYPIRG and other advocacy groups Tuesday. "That even the incremental reforms included in this budget were difficult to achieve indicates the powers that be in Albany are not fully responsive to the public’s demand for transformative change in our state capital."

"Further, we are troubled that ethics reforms are being presented with precious little time to adequately review and evaluate the bill and its many components, and will be passed via a message of necessity. Given that Albany’s veil of secrecy contributes to the pervasive culture of corruption, it is simply unacceptable for ethics reform to be decided without any public review of the proposed legislation. Press releases and news accounts should not be considered reasonable substitutes for the legislative process."

In other areas, the plan divides up billions of dollars the state has received through various financial settlements with banks and financial institutions. The money settled investigations into money-laundering and other financial irregularities.

The money includes $1.5 billion for an "Upstate Revitalization Initiative" and regional competition for economic development funds; $500 million to help pay for expanded broadband Internet networks upstate; $400 million for capital projects for hospitals and healthcare systems upstate; and $65 million for port and rail improvements, including $15 million for the Port of Albany.

The plan also calls for renewing the brownfields cleanup and State Superfund programs for another decade, and $110 million for SUNY and CUNY programs. Roads and bridge would get $750 million for repair, and local governments would get $50 million to help fix roads damaged by the long winter.

Upstate transit system would share $15 million for capital spending and $10 to subsidize operating costs.

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