By Alex Davidson
Much-needed education and health care funds will be coming to southeast Queens following legislators' recent decision in Albany to restore millions of dollars in funding to the state budget, a state senator said.
Speaking at a press conference Saturday in front of his district office, state Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-St. Albans) said monies for universal pre-kindergarten and area hospitals will come to the borough because legislators decided to override Gov. George Pataki's veto of the Legislature's budget.
The senator also used the occasion to explain why he and the other elected officials decided to raise city and state taxes.
“We want people to understand how important the override was to Queens County,” Smith said. “Taxes had to be raised because we could not cut minimum services.”
Smith was joined by state Assemblyman William Scarborough (D-St. Albans), City Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans) and U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-St. Albans).
Smith said state legislators restored $4 million earmarked for universal pre-K, $20 million in higher education funds and $100 million that will go directly to hospitals in Queens.
He said $20 million of the health-care money will go directly to southeast Queens' facilities.
The state Legislature began override procedures last week after Pataki, a Republican, vetoed certain provisions in the budget proposal for fiscal year 2004 drawn up by state Democrats and Republicans. The budget includes increases in city and state income taxes and sales taxes, two moves which Pataki opposed.
“We had a choice of bad options,” Scarborough said of his fellow legislators' decision to either raise taxes or cut funds for city services. He said he voted to raise taxes to ensure southeast Queens had the money it needed to care for its residents.
Smith and the other legislators were critical of Pataki and said he is isolating himself by not considering a budget that includes tax hikes. Smith said the Republican governor's avoidance of working with the state Legislature to craft a budget was unprecedented.
Meeks said he supported the Legislature's decision to restore education and health-care funding. He was also critical of Pataki, who he speculated is sticking to a no-new-tax platform to gain the attention of President George W. Bush.
“Your personal ambitions should not be realized at the deficit of the people,” he said. “You have to make sure the people of the great state and city get their services.”
Reach reporter Alex Davidson by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 156.