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Queens lawmakers disappointed with state spending plan

By Tom Momberg

Several state legislators from Queens have expressed discontent with weakened policies and eliminated initiatives in the state budget as both houses struggled to get a final resolution on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s desk by deadline.

In a push to get the $142 billion budget passed by April 1, the governor’s ethics reform and education initiatives were reshaped to appease a Republican-controlled Senate, ultimately passing the plan 36 to 26, and a Democratic-controlled Assembly, which passed the final plan 92 to 54.

But lawmakers were still negotiating and didn’t finalize the budget until almost 3 a.m. on Wednesday, depriving Cuomo of what would have been his fifth consecutive on-time budget.

New ethics rules in the budget will require lawmakers to disclose more complete information about outside jobs and any additional income. The rules will also require pension forfeiture for corruption and electronically log event attendance. Lawmakers were upset, however, that so many changes were made to the reforms without giving them proper time to review.

Assemblyman David Weprin (D-Fresh Meadows) said that while he was disappointed there was no minimum wage increase, property tax relief or Tuition Assistance Program expansion for the Dream Act, there were still some meaningful items in the state budget.

“I’m just happy we are able to get this through on time,” he said. “The governor went out of his way to meet that goal.”

Weprin said he was proud to announce an additional $1 million in funding to community-based independent living centers in the budget, as well as a $500,000 increase to the governor’s proposed $1 million in additional funds for the City University of New York’s CUNY Leads program that provides academic support to students with disabilities.

The assemblyman said he was glad to see that budget negotiations took concerns of administrators and teachers into account when it came to the governor’s proposed education policies, too.

“I’m very happy with the changes we’ve made to the teacher evaluation system, and with the fact that the Board of Regents will now go about a public hearing process (for ineffective teachers),” Weprin said. “Our new regent from Queens, Judith Chin, I know will do a great job of considering local input in decisions when it comes to our teachers.”

Like many lawmakers, Assemblyman Francisco Moya (D-Jackson Heights) was unhappy that tuition assistance for undocumented alien students was not included in the $1.4 billion education increase outlined in the budget.

“Although the budget overall is a boon for Queens families, it falls short because of the conspicuous absence of the Dream Act,” Moya said.

Sen. James Sanders (D-South Ozone Park) said the most costly item to have been omitted from the budget was a minimum wage hike, which was proposed to reach $10.50 by the end of 2016, and $11.50 in New York City.

“Perhaps we have forgotten, or perhaps we have never known, what it’s like to try to feed a family on the minimum wage – a wage that has not increased in many years,” Sanders said.

Sen. Joseph Addabbo (D-Middle Village) said there were many positive items in the budget, but that the final version could be spoken of more in terms of lost opportunities.

“Additional funding for our schools, veterans, libraries and seniors are in a state budget that also falls short of real ethics reform, less reliance on state tests, and shortchanges individuals with disabilities,” Addabbo said. “I am hopeful that items that were intentionally omitted from the budget, such as paid family leave and campaign reform, will be addressed during the remainder of the legislative session.”

Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) said he was disappointed that the proposed working-class protections like paid family leave and a minimum wage hike were not included in the budget.

Reach reporter Tom Momberg by e-mail at tmomberg@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4573.

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