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New budget has much of North Country interest (update)

April 3, 2014
By MATTHEW TURNER ( , Lake Placid News

For the fourth year, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the Legislature have passed an on-time budget, and North Country Republican legislators Sen. Betty Little and Assemblywoman Janet Duprey are pleased with a majority of it.

"I think there is more good in it than bad," Duprey said. "I expect I will be voting for it."


North Country appropriations

A Clarkson University-Trudeau Institute partnership is set to get another $10 million, after receiving $5 million in January as the first installment of a five-year, $35 million state promise.

"Trudeau is extremely important for the North Country," Little said. "It's working very well. There is a lot of researching going on up there."

Little said the biomedical research institute could prompt more biotech companies in Saranac Lake in the future.

The state Olympic Regional Development Authority will get S11.2 million. Cuomo recently visited the Olympic Center last month for his Adirondack Winter Challenge event.

ORDA relies on state funding as well as its own venue revenue to stay afloat. The authority has spent more money than it has brought in since 2009, according to the comptroller's March 27, 2013, report. The authority uses a multi-million-dollar line of credit from a private bank to manage its operational loses.

Franklin County will receive $700,000 to help to recover losses from property taxes over disputed territory in the town of Bombay, where residents do not pay property taxes because they say the land is rightfully part of the St. Regis Mohawk Reservation.

The Adirondack North Country Association will receive $350,000, an increase from last year by $100,000.

North Country Community College will receive $75 in aid per full-time-equivalent student.

For communities affected by prison closures, $32 million will be spread out among them, including in Chateaugay, where a prison there is set to close.

"We've done everything we could to keep Chateaugay (correctional facility) open," Little said. "Each community will get $8 million for economic development."

The prison facilities themselves will become tax-free zones, part of the Start-Up NY initiative.


Property taxes

Cuomo's signature property tax plan for the most part remained the same as his proposal in his Executive Budget in January.

The budget will appropriate $1.5 billion to create a new property tax rebate for homeowners over a three-year period. Whether or not homeowners will get that money is conditional on local government's following a set of guidelines. In the first year, local governments would have to stay within the 2 percent tax cap, and the second year they would have to share services with neighboring governments.

One major change included a repayment for local governments that have shared services since 2011.

Little said she was supportive of the repayment for shared services because it accounted for those in the North Country who did so previously.


Education funding

Overall school funding increases by $1.1 billion, an increase of 5.3 percent from the last budget.

Schools districts will receive $602 million in Gap Elimination Adjustment restorations, more than was originally proposed by the Senate and governor. High-need school districts will receive nearly 70 percent of the increase.

Little, who voted against the GEA in 2010, said that would come out to about a 4 percent increase in funding for an individual school district.

"We would have liked to entirely eliminate the GEA," Little said. "It has affected upstate dramatically."

Duprey said she was also disappointed.

"We did not put in enough money restoring GEA," she said.


Common Core

The budget had several reforms to the Common Core State Standards, including the banning of standardized testing for students in third grade and below.

Duprey said she sympathized with parents who want to opt out of Common Core and wants to make the process simpler.

"There really is no detail on how children can opt out," Duprey said. "I think that should be an easier process. It's a big enough issues. Let's address it."

Little said the test scores would not count this year, which would serve as a practice run.

"The implementation (of Common Core) was done poorly," Little said. "Students were taught a method of teaching they were not familiar with. Therefore we had a lot of failure."

Duprey was also concerned with the sharing of student test information through the P-20 program. Her understanding of the changes in the budget was that entire school districts can opt out of the sharing of student data, but individual students do not have that option.


Smart Schools ballot measure

The budget includes a $2 billion general obligation bond act that would fund enhanced education technology in schools.

Duprey said she believed it was good that New Yorkers would get to chose on the Nov. 4 ballot whether or not they wanted to implement the initiative. She said high-speed Internet is good, but she has concerns about investing in technology like electronic tablets.

"You're borrowing over a long term for something that might outdated in three years," Duprey said.



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