The state Legislature’s fiscal committees have started public hearings on Governor Andrew Cuomo’s 2019-2020 proposed state budget and there are early warning signs.
These annual hearings are a key step in New York’s budget adoption process. For starters, they give individual legislators like myself the chance to question, in detail, state agency heads and other state officials on the Cuomo plan. We also hear directly from numerous advocacy groups on the anticipated impact on programs and services that reach into and make an enormous difference for local communities.
In other words, this part of the process offer legislators the chance to look behind the governor’s numbers and hear the rest of the story. This year’s hearings continue until late February. The full schedule is available on my Senate website, omara.nysenate.gov, where you can also watch the hearings live (and access archived videos of previously held hearings).
I’ll share a few early concerns, including:
- -The elimination of Aid and Incentives to Municipalities (AIM) funding for most of the towns and villages across the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes regions. This cut took mayors and other local leaders by surprise, and it has quickly become a flashpoint of concern. AIM is the largest single source of state revenue sharing. It’s estimated that the Cuomo cut will eliminate AIM for 1,328 of New York’s 1,465 towns and villages unless it’s restored by the Legislature
- -The elimination of approximately $15 million for specific and long-standing agricultural programs and services
- -The elimination of a $65-million “Extreme Winter Recovery” allocation that has become essential for municipalities to address the maintenance of local roads and bridges. On top of this cut, the governor once again keeps funding flat for the Consolidated Highway Improvement Program (CHIPS).
In short, as I feared, Governor Cuomo’s proposed budget does not protect critical state support for regional municipalities or for specifically vital agricultural programs and services. Putting the fate of this funding in the hands of the current leaders of the Senate and Assembly spells trouble for localities, agriculture, and roads and bridges, especially upstate.
In the past, when Republicans held a majority in the state Senate, we quickly rejected cuts like these when the governor proposed them. Then we fought to restore them, year after year. I have not yet heard any similar outcry of opposition from current legislative leaders.
For example, in 2018, Senate Republicans fought to restore more than $10 million in agricultural program funding cuts Governor Cuomo proposed in the 2018-2019 state budget. From 2011 to last year, we prioritized restorations totaling more than $50 million. Among other programs and institutions the governor’s 2019-20 proposed budget leaves hanging are the Wine and Grape Foundation, Future Farmers of America (FFA), Tractor Rollover Prevention Program, FarmNet (Farm Family Assistance), Local Fair Assistance, and the Cornell Diagnostic Lab. Other vital Cornell research and study programs are also impacted including those invaluable to the dairy industry, food safety research and study, disease detection and prevention, honeybee die-off, invasive species, pesticide use, and rabies prevention and treatment.
Senate Republicans will continue to stand up and speak out for our municipalities and farmers. That will not change. We will continue to oppose any state government actions putting them at risk.
Nevertheless, with this critical funding left up in the air for now, I can only be concerned about who will be in their corner in the same way in 2019.
Simply put, history warns that some state Democratic leaders may not share the same level of commitment and that’s a major red flag at the start of state budget negotiations.