Pre-k funding wins praise
By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Brooklyn members of the State Legislature spoke out as the massive $137 billion state budget was finalized in Albany on Monday, offering differing views on pre-kindergarten funding, tax credits for renters, the failure to include the DREAM Act and other items.
The budget was produced on time for the fourth year in a row. April 1 marks the start of the new fiscal year.
State Sen. Marty Golden (R-C-Bay Ridge-southwest Brooklyn), a member of the senate’s Finance Committee, said he was pleased universal pre-k funding was approved. “Today, we will adopt a budget that advances early childhood and higher education, allocating $300 million for full day pre-K in New York City, and an additional $25.7 million for the Tuition Assistance Program,” he said on Monday.
But Golden, who pushed for a tax credit for private and parochial school parents to help them offset the high costs of school tuition, expressed deep disappointment that the measure was not included in the budget package. He also said he is disappointed that the budget does not include a plan to provide a discount on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge tolls for residents outside of Staten Island.
“An overall sound budget for the Empire State, I share the disappointment of many of my constituents in the failure to achieve an Education Investment Tax Credit and Verrazano Bridge toll relief. Your fight for these important causes goes on,” Golden said.
Renters will be getting a tax break, thanks to the approval of a tax credit, the first ever for the state’s renters. Home owners were already receiving a tax credit. “I am proud that this year, we have included a tax credit for both homeowners and renters, which will save residents of my district hundreds of dollars per year,” Golden said.
Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis (R-C-Bay Ridge-Staten Island) said the budget provides a number of positive items dealing in transportation, tax relief and support for senior citizens.
“Of particular note, this year’s budget provides $4.35 billion in funding for the MTA, an increase of $85.1 million from last year. I have advocated for this increase in transportation funding and am hopeful that this increase will be used for expansion and restoration of transportation in our community,” Malliotakis said.
Malliotakis said the budget is good news for senior citizens, who will see an expansion of the EPIC program and the Senior Citizens Rent Increase Exemption Program (SCRIE). The latter will increase the income eligibility threshold from $29,000 to $50,000.
Malliotakis applauded the defeat of the DREAM Act, which would have provided tuition assistance for undocumented immigrants. “We successfully defeated the DREAM Act. Instead of providing tuition assistance for illegal immigrants, those funds will be used to expand aid for citizens and legal immigrants, as I advocated for,” she said.
Assemblyman Bill Colton (D-Gravesend-Bensonhurst) called the budget “an opportunity to bring about historic foundational change in our school system."
Universal pre-k is particularly important, according to Colton. “Universal pre-kindergarten is a historic initiative which will help build a sound foundational education for our city’s children. The creation of universal pre-K in New York City will have a profound impact on improving the quality of education for millions of students. It is important that New York City implements pre-kindergarten programs not on a partial basis, but as a universal foundational reform which will positively affect the greatest number of students in our city’s public school system,” he said.
Colton said Mayor Bill de Blasio deserves a great deal of credit for bringing the pre-k issue to the forefront, even though the mayor did not win his battle to have pre-k classes funded through a tax increase on wealthy New Yorkers.
Assemblyman Karim Camara,chairman of the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Caucus called universal pre-k a potential “game changer” but said the failure to enact the DREAM Act “is very, very troubling.”
A freeze on property taxes “will benefit wealthier homeowners and wealthier schools districts and will, inevitably, disproportionately hurt poorer school districts by exacerbating inequitable funding,” Camara (D-Crown Heights-Lefferts Gardens) said. “Far too many school districts are already distressed and the loss of funding will impact the classroom as well as athletics, music, and the arts,” he said.
Camara also expressed disappointment that New York did not raise the age by which young people who are criminal suspects are tried as adults.
“New York has the distinction of standing with North Carolina as one of only two states that treat children as adults in our criminal justice system. Empirical evidence shows that treating children as children in our criminal justice system does not increase crime, but rather decreases the chances of a child being re-incarcerated,” he said.