New York is sailing into choppy financial waters next year: Tax revenue is slowing and there’s a $4 billion deficit that needs to be closed.
And this could spell trouble for the state’s schools in an election year.
“The state has an obligation to address those challenges and if there’s a fiscal challenge then they’ve got to come up with other ways to address the revenue issues,” said Billy Easton of the Alliance for Quality Education.
Along with health care, education is one of the most expensive items in the state budget and among the most politically fraught concerns lawmakers face each year.
In recent years, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and lawmakers have approved hikes in spending. But that was when there were surpluses.
And to be sure, the state has faced larger gaps in recent years, including a $10 billion hole Cuomo inherited when he took office in 2011.
“I think it’s a matter of timing right now,” said Tim Kremer, the executive director of the state School Boards Association.
“If you look at the things the comptroller is putting out, he’s saying that tax collections are down, but on the other hand we heard that Wall Street profits are up, so we’re waiting to see how this all plays out.”
Education advocates still want to see their priorities funded next year. At the Alliance for Quality Education, that includes boosting spending in high-needs school districts.
“I think it would be politically smart of him,” Easton said. “Certainly it’s a time when the governor is worried about his branding, his legacy, how he’s perceived not only in New York, but around the country.”
And for school boards, there’s a range of issues, from specialized programming to the cost of beneifts for school employees.
“What we know is we’re going to have big spending pressure on English language learners, special education, health care costs are three things that are coming at us,” Kremer said.
One item unlikely to be on the to-do list is long-sought push to change the state’s cap on property tax increases and give school districts more wiggle room.
“I have my doubts, quite honestly,” Kremer said. “It’s been a signature item for the governor and there haven’t been any indications he wants to ease up on that cap.”