NY Lawmakers Reach Budget Deal with Pre-K Funds for NYC

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New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders have finalized the details on a $138 billion dollar state budget and said they are on track to meet the April 1 deadline. The budget includes a multi-step plan that could reduce property taxes, $340 million dollars for schools to start pre-K programs, and a limited test program for public campaign financing.

Governor Cuomo, speaking one day after the budget was finally closed down at near midnight on Friday, said he’s pleased that he convinced the legislature to adopt his multi-step plan that could lead to reduced property taxes. He called it “the single most transformative component of the budget."

The plan requires local governments to hold the line on spending and consolidate services. If the localities and school districts cooperate, homeowners would receive a rebate check in the mail, shortly before Election Day.

Schools will see a $1.1 billion dollar increase in state aid, and $340 million dollars will be devoted to starting pre-kindergarten programs, with a commitment to keep that level of funding for five years. New York City will receive $300 million. Upstate and Long Island will split the remaining $40 million dollars.

Senate Independent Democrat Conference Leader Jeff Klein, who rules the Senate in a coalition with the Republicans, spoke as the final agreement was being reached.

“We’re looking forward to having a fully-funded universal pre-K program in the state of New York,” Klein said.

Charter schools will get more money and help with paying for classroom space. And there will be a two year moratorium on the effects of the new Common Core tests on students.

The governor and lawmakers also agreed on an ethics package. It will increase investigations of campaign finance violations and strengthen penalties for bribery and corruption. In exchange, Cuomo said he has agreed to disband his Moreland Act Commission, which was in the midst of investigating alleged wrongdoing by lawmakers.

“If this package is adopted, then I would end the Moreland Commission,” Cuomo said.  

The budget also includes a “test” pilot program for public campaign financing.  It will apply only to the State Comptroller’s race, for the 2014 election cycle. The money for a matching small donor program would come from the Comptroller’s own unclaimed deposits fund.

Bill Mahoney of the New York Public Interest Research Group said it’s disappointing that the governor, who he said is “the most prodigious fundraiser” in New York, will not be included in the public campaign finance system.

“There’s no changes to his limits that have let him receive ridiculous amounts of money from large donors,” Mahoney said.

Cuomo has raised $33 million dollars so far for his re-election effort.

Advocates, have not given up yet, though. Senator Klein, in a statement, said he will continue to push for a more “comprehensive” public finance system between now and April 1st.  

Cuomo said he, too, wanted a “more robust” system, and will keep trying in the rest of the session, but he blamed Republicans, who co-lead the Senate with Senator Klein, for resisting the measure.