The process to develop and enact the 2021-2022 state budget concluded this week. This budget includes a number of priority items that were raised to me by individuals, groups and businesses in Saratoga and Washington Counties. The budget also, frankly, has some significant short comings that caused me to vote against two of the ten bills that comprise the budget. In this email, I will give you a brief overview of the budget, highlighting the pieces that I think may be of most interest to you. I will be hosting a series of Virtual Town Hall meetings later this month and will have a more detailed presentation as well as an opportunity for you to ask questions about specific programs that matter to you.
- Funding for the City of Saratoga Springs from revenue generated by the Video Lottery Terminals has been restored. The Governor initially cut these funds in his Executive Budget proposal.
- An equitable agreement was reached between the Saratoga Harness Association and Rivers Casino re-establishing the Casino's responsibility to provide support payments to fund purses and breeder awards for the Saratoga Harness Track.
- I secured funding for Pitney Meadows Community Farm and Comfort Food Community to expand their programs to better meet the needs of people with food insecurity throughout Saratoga and Washington Counties.
- Expansion of youth hunting, supervised, during deer season will now be permitted in counties that choose to opt into this program.
- The budget expands Pre-K programs to schools that have previously not been able to offer a Pre-K program, including Mechanicville, Schuylerville, Shenendehowa, Argyle, Fort Edward and Salem school districts. In addition, several districts will receive additional funding to expand their programs, including Ballston Spa, Saratoga Springs, Stillwater, Greenwich and Hartford.
- K-12 schools saw an increase in Foundation Aid ranging from 3% to over 10%. The funding formula was updated this year to better ensure that districts with a higher poverty rate received a greater share of funding.
- Libraries will receive the same amount of funding that they did last year; capital funds for library construction have been increased which should be helpful to some of the libraries in our district that have plans to expand their facilities in the coming year to better meet the needs of their communities
- The amount off the TAP grant is increased by $500 bringing it to $5665. This is the first increase to the TAP grant in seven years. In addition, funding to SUNY and CUNY universities and to Community Colleges was increased. There will be no tuition increase at any of the state universities or colleges.
Small Business Assistance
- A new $800 million COVID-19 Pandemic Small Business Recovery Grant program, administered by Empire State Development Corp, has been established. The grants can be used to cover various business costs including payroll; rent or mortgage payments; payment of local property or school taxes, insurance; utilities; personal protective equipment (PPE) necessary to protect worker and consumer health and safety; heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) or other machinery or equipment costs necessary for compliance with COVID-19 health and safety protocols. Priority will be given to micro-businesses, certified MWBE businesses, service-disabled veteran-owned businesses, veteran-owned businesses, as well as small businesses that did not qualify for federal assistance or did not receive sufficient federal assistance.
- Performing Arts organizations large and small, like SPAC, the Hudson River Music Hall, and Hubbard Hall, will be assisted in re-opening with a new $40 million Arts Recovery Grant program to assist with reopening efforts of various not-for-profit arts organizations and to provide financial support for the conversion of outdoor venue spaces.
- Expansion of available, affordable, quality childcare was raised by many as a priority for helping parents go back to work full-time. This budget expands the number of subsidized childcare slots, provides support for childcare providers to establish childcare centers in areas, like the Adirondacks and parts of Saratoga and Washington counties that don't currently have any or enough childcare providers.
- Tenants who have been unable to pay their rent because of a job loss or loss of income due to COVID will be able to apply for rental assistance to cover their back rent. This program is funded through federal dollars and is based on income level. Landlords can also apply on behalf of their tenant, with the tenant's permission. Funds will be disbursed directly to the landlord. In exchange for these funds to catch their tenants up on back rent, landlords will be required to not evict the tenant for a period of time and to forgo rent increases for that period.
- An additional state fund has been established for Landlords whose tenants are not otherwise eligible for the rental assistance, but who are nonetheless behind in their rent. The same terms will apply as for the federal funding program.
- The budget provides significant funding for agriculture commodity support programs, including for the first time this year the Empire Sheep Producers.
- The Farm Viability Institute and research programs at Cornell CALS were fully funded.
- Funding to Cornell Cooperative Extension was increased this year for a total off $4.4 million
- $18 million was allocated for Farmland Conservation programs, and the successful Farmland for a New Generation program run by American Farmland Trust in Saratoga County saw an increase in funding to $500,000.
- The farm workforce retention tax credit has been extended for three years to help farmers with the rising cost of labor.
- Nourish New York which supports farmers who sell food to food banks, and which ensures that all New Yorkers have access to healthy locally grown foods, has been funded at $50 million for the year.
- Funds to develop a complete mapping of the availability of broadband across the state has been included. This mapping will serve as the basis for investment in finally delivering broadband for all New Yorkers.
- A requirement that broadband companies provide a low-cost option, $15 or $20 depending on the level of service, has been included in this year's budget. Because smaller companies, with a limited customer base, would not be able to sustain this without significantly increasing costs to other consumers, they are excluded from this requirement. Check with your provider on their low-cost options.
Roads and Bridges
- Increased funding to municipalities for the Consolidated Local Street and Highway Improvement Program (CHIPs).
- Funding to municipalities for roadwork on the "touring roads" -- state roads that are in cities, like Route 29 through Saratoga Springs
- Clean water infrastructure programs received $500 million in funding. Communities like Salem that is looking at the feasibility of a new sewer system and Stillwater that has an aging water system that needs to be upgraded would be assisted by these funds.
- The Environmental Protection Fund is funded at $300 million this year.
- A new 30% Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credit for Small Projects (less than $2.5 million) has been established. For communities with historic downtown centers, like Mechanicville or Hudson Falls, these new Rehabilitation Tax Credits will help bring private investment to purchase and rehab and put back into use downtown buildings.
Where I Voted No and Why
I cast two no votes in this year's budget: Health and Mental Hygiene and Revenue. I voted against the Health and Mental Hygiene bill for two reasons. First, closure of facilities that specifically treat children who are suffering with mental illness without a plan to adequately provide community-based treatment options for these young patients and their families. And second, the constraints being placed on nursing homes and long-term care facilities will create, in my opinion, financial instability for our local nursing homes. I fought for, and secured restoration of funding for the Rural Healthcare Assistance Network, and I fought for and secured the funding stream that community health centers like Hudson Headwaters Community Network depends upon. Still my concern that we are not doing the right thing for children who suffer with mental illness and that in the name of reform we are putting valued community resources like Fort Hudson Nursing Home at risk were too great for me to vote yes on this bill.
I voted against the Revenue bill because it included the Excluded Worker Fund. As a legislator, I have a duty to ensure taxpayer money is spent responsibly. I also have a duty to ensure the basic needs of my constituents are being met. The Excluded Workers Fund included in this year’s state budget does not meet either of these goals and in good conscience I could not support it. In my office we work with constituents every day who have not been able to receive unemployment benefits, though they are entitled to them, because of a system that is overwhelmed. I speak to parents, generally mothers, who have voluntarily stepped out of the workforce to homeschool their children during this pandemic, effectively reducing the family income by 50-percent and there is no income replacement for them.I speak to constituents who have lost their business or who have seen it sharply curtailed due to capacity restrictions, and there is no income replacement benefit available to them.Establishing an income-replacement fund for immigrants living in New York without documentation is not, in my opinion, an appropriate use of limited taxpayer resources. Further, the program, as designed, requires scant documentation to verify lost income due to COVID making it a target for fraud. For these reasons, I voted no on the bill that created this fund.
Town Hall Meeting Schedule
I will be hosting three virtual town hall meetings the last week in April to provide a legislative and budget update and answer questions you may have. To make it possible to answer as many questions as possible, we are limiting space in each virtual town hall meeting to 20 people. If you are interested in participating, please contact my office at 518-584-5493 and let us know which of the meetings you want to attend, and provide an email address where we can send the zoom link information. The schedule for the Town Halls is as follows:
- Tuesday, April 27, 6:30 - 8:00 pm
- Wednesday April 28, 6:30 - 8:00 pm
- Thursday April 29, 1:00 - 2:30 pm
If you would like to participate, but none of those dates work for you, please contact the office and we will set up a one-on-one meeting for you.