BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – After a last minute flourish of activity at the state capitol in Albany, state lawmakers passed the state budget for the fiscal year that started at midnight. Governor Andrew Cuomo announced the completed budget shortly after midnight.
As debate raged in the closing moments the old budget year opponents took one last opportunity to get in their digs.
Many of the critics of the 2015-2016 spending plan questioned the state’s spending and taxing priorities. Among them, Amherst Assemblyman Ray Walter, questioning tax breaks for luxury boat purchases.
“There’s tax breaks for yacht owners and private aircraft owners,” said Republican Walter, but not much for middle class New Yorkers.
Most of the opposition was centered on public education and income inequality–more specifically the lack of action raising the state’s minimum wage.
The budget package seems to be good for Buffalo and western New York, with the NFTA and the culturals such as Shea’s, among the chief beneficiaries.
Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown seems to be pleased with the millions of dollars coming into the region, “Funding for the NFTA, funding for Roswell Park Cancer Institute. So from what is trickling out in terms of what will be in the budget, it looks like it is a pretty good budget for Buffalo and Western New York.”
Cuomo said the plan will keep spending under two percent, and will implement the nation’s strongest and most comprehensive disclosure laws for public officials.
The $150 billion budget for 2015-2016 included increased state aid to public schools by $1.4 billion. Overall, they will now receive $23.5 billion.
Public school teachers could be paying the price for a boost in public education spending. New testing and evaluations could cost some teachers their raises, or even their jobs.
Educators can now be fired if they’re found ineffective three years in a row. Teacher evaluations will be based partly on student test scores. They will also be based on classroom observation of teachers by a school administrator and by an independent evaluator.
Some school officials say lawmakers needed to take a look inside schools to see the issues before the evaluation overhaul was put in place.
Riverside High School teacher Marc Bruno said Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state lawmakers seem to be missing the mark in their efforts to reform public education.
“If they are not addressing attendance, if they are not addressing the fact that we have more and more students from all over the world coming to Buffalo who simply speak little or no English — it is not the DaVinci Code why some of these schools are failing,” he said.
Buffalo Sen. Marc Panepinto accused lawmakers favoring education reform of scapegoating teachers. Panepinto was also among critics of the budget deal for failing to raise the minimum wage, while giving tax breaks to the wealthy.
“This budget could have dealt with raising the minimum wage, it could have dealt with paid family leave, but it chose not to, and it chose to scapegoat teachers in the process,” Panepinto said.
The criticism was bi-partisan, with Assemblyman Walter also deriding the spending priorities.
“There’s tax breaks for Hollywood moguls and video software and music producers, but there’s no tax breaks for the deli on Main Street, the small business down the road,” added Walter.
State Senator Robert Ortt, from North Tonawanda, said this about the budget, “That’s what matters most to me. Improving our ailing economy, upgrading out infrastructure, increasing aid to local schools that have been constrained by budget cuts, and helping our working class families, farms and small businesses overburdened with taxes and regulations.”