NYS Budget: Brooklyn gets more money for new hospital, schools
Overall, underwhelming: 'Just held our noses and approved it’
State representatives from Brooklyn said the $142 billion state budget approved early Wednesday was disappointing — but better than the alternative, which would have given Gov. Andrew Cuomo a free hand in implementing his education agenda, with less money for public schools.
One item that remained in the budget was $700 million for capital spending on hospitals in Brooklyn – including $500 million for a new hospital in East New York. The new hospital would replace other crumbling hospitals to “reduce unnecessary inpatient beds while improving healthcare quality,” according to language in the budget.
“That was excellent news,” said Assemblymember Charles Barron (D-East New York).
United University Professions President Frederick Kowal expressed unease about what he called a lack of oversight of the $700 million, however.
“These funds could be very helpful in bringing about the changes needed to secure medical care for Brooklyn well into the 21st century. We urge the governor and the state health commissioner to consult with all stakeholders—including public unions—to ensure that this allocation of funds will result in stronger public hospitals that provide life-saving health care to all.”
Though Brookdale, Kings County and SUNY Downstate’s University Hospital have been mentioned in connection with these capital funds, the proposal does not specify which hospitals would actually receive the money, which would be distributed “at the discretion of the Commissioner of Health without a competitive bid or RFP process,” according to the budget language.
Funds meant to prop up teetering safety-net hospitals — including Interfaith Medical Center, Brookdale Hospital, Kingsbrook Jewish Medical Center and Wyckoff Heights Medical Center in Brooklyn – were also included.
State Sen. Daniel Squadron (D- Brooklyn Heights-Williamsburg-Lower Manhattan) was deeply disappointed that the budget contained no money for the now-shuttered Long Island College Hospital, closed by the state last year after a multi-year legal battle.
Schools get budget boost
Schools received funds of $23.5 billion in this year’s budget, a $1.4 billion increase. The state Education Department will be devising a new teacher evaluation process, as well as creating a path by which the state can take over struggling schools. But the state avoided the more Draconian education reforms that Cuomo had been pushing.
The budget no longer links teacher performance evaluations to standardized test scores and outside evaluators. Teacher evaluations will be based on a mix of factors, including local assessments and multiple measures of learning.
The budget puts the responsibility for implementing the education proposals with the NYS Board of Regents, not the governor or the legislature.
“In the end my colleagues and I in the Assembly made the best of a set of terrible budget options,” Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon (D-Brooklyn Heights-Gowanus-Park Slope) said on Wednesday.
On the bright side, the budget “directs a lot of money to public education,” Simon told the Brooklyn Eagle. “It leaves the fleshing out of the teacher evaluation details to the Regents. Given that we have added four strong new Regents, that gives me more confidence.”
The increase in education funding directly affects Brooklyn, she said. Overall, 68.5 percent of the aid will go to high-needs districts; 25.7 percent to average-need districts; and 5.8 percent to low-need districts.
“Seventy percent of city schools have high needs,” Simon said. “That’s significant money going to Brooklyn, including to schools in the 52nd A.D.” While many think of Assembly District 52 schools as encompassing high income areas, “We have a lot of free and reduced-price lunch students, a lot of high-needs children.”
The budget includes a $30 million increase in pre-K funding for 3- and 4-year- olds and protects last year’s pre-K investment.
Other positives include more money for public housing and afterschool programs, Simon said.
“If we voted against the education piece, we wouldn’t get the ethics reforms…. It could have been a lot worse,” she said.
Budget ironed out at 3 a.m.
“We had a long night last night,” Assemblymember Peter Abbate (D- Borough Park-Dyker Heights-Bensonhurst) told the Eagle on Wednesday after the long drive home from Albany.
Abbate listed education and economic development as two major areas of concern to Brooklynites, adding that the budget “didn’t raise any taxes!”
The Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce will be receiving $500,000 in increased funding this year, for a total of $1 million, he said. “This will keep their progress going on initiatives like health care and outreach to small commercial strips.”
The state’s Start-Up initiatives provide incentive for capital development on and around SUNY and CUNY campuses. “Money is going to start-up businesses in Brooklyn,” he said. “We do have a number of universities here.”
The budget includes “new business incentives in East New York and in other areas – along Bush Terminal and along Third Avenue,” he said. “The money is there – groups have to apply for it.”
The film industry’s tax credit also continues this year, Abbate said. “This is big money for Steiner Studios.”
Sen. Squadron focused on some of the positives in the budget that haven’t gotten as much attention, such as the Nurse-Family Partnership, a nurse home visiting program for low-income women who are having their first baby. The budget includes $4 million for this program, an increase from last year, thanks to Squadron’s push.
But Squadron believes the failure to fund the MTA’s five-year capital plan to keep Brooklyn’s subways and buses running was a missed opportunity.
State Sen. Martin Golden (R-C-I, Brooklyn), a member of the Finance Committee, said in a statement that legislators had agreed to invest $150 million in counter terrorism and disaster preparedness, and nearly $60 million towards the purchase of new and improved equipment for police officers.
Golden said that funding for early childhood educational programs and blind, deaf and multihandicapped children were “key accomplishments” of the budget. TAP (Tuition Assistance Program) was also funded.
But he expressed disappointment that an Education Investment Tax Credit and Verrazano Bridge toll relief had failed to be included.
Barron: Cuomo ‘vindictive’
“[Assembly Speaker] Carl Heastie and the Assembly did a great job pushing back the anti-pedagogical and ridiculous changes the governor was trying to force on us,” Assemblymember Barron told the Eagle. “I voted against the evaluation system the governor was trying to impose.”
Barron said he was concerned about the close relationship of Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch and the governor. “I see that as problematic.”
But he was relieved that the governor’s plan to have the state take over struggling schools was set back. State seizure would be delayed for a year to allow schools to implement changes, he said.
“It’s critical to children to not allow state seizure of struggling schools. If schools show growth, the state will not take them over,” he said.
Barron called the governor’s teacher evaluation proposals “vindictive.”
“We had to sit till 3 a.m. debating non-budget items like teacher evaluations. This is a small-minded bully using the process to punish the UFT. Carl [Heastie] and the Assembly pushed back, but not enough for me.”
He also scoffed at the tax breaks the budget gives to owners of luxury yachts and airplanes. “They’ll say anything to avoid taxing the rich… They’re not going to park in Boston.”
The budget’s ethics proposals require lawmakers to disclose their outside income and make lawyers in the Legislature identify clients. There would be exceptions allowing lawmakers to redact the names of clients without ties to government, according to AP. Lawyers paid by a firm for their political influence could also list no clients.
The rules would also prohibit the use of campaign funds for personal expenses.
“These steps are simply insufficient to fully address the parade of scandals that have engulfed Albany and will do little to restore the public’s growing cynicism about its own government,” according to a joint statement from Common Cause-New York, New York Public Interest Research Group and other groups.
“I will hold my nose and vote yes,” Assemblymember Jeffrey Dinowitz (D-Bronx) told AP late Tuesday.
“It’s not an ideal world,” Democratic Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie told AP as the final bills were being printed. “It’s not an ideal situation. But the people in the state want an on-time budget.”
“The newly passed budget enhances the quality of life of our residents by including much-needed funding for education, economic development, health care, senior programs and initiatives that protect our most vulnerable residents,” Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz (D-Brighton Beach, Gravesend, Midwood) said in a statement.
“Enacting a budget for the people means making sure that the priorities important to New York’s families are put first. My colleagues and I stood up for the programs that make a difference in people’s lives and secured needed investments that will make New York a stronger place to live, work and do business,” Assemblyman Joseph Lentol said.
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