Gov. Andrew Cuomo delivered his ninth State of the State address on Jan. 15, and unveiled his proposed $175 billion budget for fiscal year 2020, which would cut aid to villages such as Rockville Centre.
He reduced the state’s Aid and Incentives for Municipalities, or AIM, program by nearly $60 million, which would shrink funding for towns and villages for which state money accounts for less than 2 percent of the budget. Last year, Rockville Centre received $400,000 through the program — about 0.5 percent of its 2017 expenditures — but under the new proposed budget it would get nothing.
“That’s just a proposed budget,” Mayor Francis X. Murray told the Herald. “That’s happened in the past, and the legislators usually put it back in.”
Murray said the cuts would most likely mean a tax increase of about 2 percent for village residents, but added that he had spoken with State Sen. Todd Kaminsky about restoring the aid for villages, and that he was trying to set up a meeting with Cuomo and the New York State Conference of Mayors and Municipal Officials, of which Murray is on the executive committee.
“I like the governor. He’s reasonable with me, and we’ll see what he has to say,” Murray said. “. . . We have to wait and see where all the cards fall. There’s no excitement or sense of urgency with me right now.”
Peter Baynes, executive director of the state Conference of Mayors, urged state legislators to join the organization “in the fight to restore these cuts, preserve the essential municipal services funded by this aid and protect New Yorkers from state-induced increases in the regressive local property tax.”
Negotiations on the proposed budget are continuing, and Kaminsky, a Democrat from Long Beach, said that restoring state aid for communities would be a top priority.
“The governor’s proposal will further restrict the essential services provided by towns across our state,” said Gerry Geist, executive director of the New York State Association of Towns. “Furthermore, this proposal will likely force municipalities to pierce the tax cap to cover costs associated with the services lost if this proposal becomes law. The governor is forcing towns to continue to dry up reserves and tighten budgets that are already stretched too thin.”
Assemblywoman Judy Griffin, a first-term Democrat from Rockville Centre, called the proposed budget “concerning,” noting that she would advocate for increased state aid before the spending plan is finalized, likely in March.
“There’s so many services we get from our municipalities,” Griffin said. “If they didn’t get more money, they’d have to be creative in their budget.”
The Town of Hempstead would also lose out on $3.8 million due to the cut to AIM funding, according to Town Supervisor Laura Gillen, a Rockville Centre resident. On Jan. 18, she tweeted that she was “deeply disappointed” in the cut to state aid.
“This is critical aid that is used to keep taxes stable and essential government services working for the residents of the town,” the tweet stated.
More aid to schools
The governor is proposing an increase in school aid statewide by 3.6 percent, or about $1 billion, to $27.7 billion. The state Board of Regents had requested $2.1 billion more in school aid, including a $1.7 billion increase in foundation aid.
Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa said that Cuomo’s proposed $338 million in additional foundation aid fell far short of what schools need to achieve equity.
Aid to the Rockville Centre school district would increase by $780,000 — from about $12.2 million to $13 million — under the proposed spending plan, according to budget documents. But Schools Superintendent Dr. William Johnson said that a majority of the increased aid is based on past-year expenses, which he noted were not accurate in the state documents.
“The increases in those aids do not align with our expenses, so somebody’s made a mistake,” Johnson said. “Our expenses in the three categories where our numbers went up significantly, and that account for about 70 percent of the increase, are unexplainable.” He estimated the real increase in state aid to be about $200,000.
Johnson noted that state estimates for aid that the district was expected to get for the current school year were higher than what it actually received. “This year we picked it up early,” he said, “and we can’t go forward with an aid estimate in our budget that isn’t based on reality.” Public presentations on the school budget will begin next month.
The tax cap and property reassessments
Cuomo framed his address in terms of a “justice agenda” for the state this year, particularly in the face of federal government actions, including the 2017 tax-code changes, which, he said, threaten the state’s economic viability.
“We face real challenges in the state of New York,” Cuomo said. “We have a federal government that is assaulting our values, our liberties, our rights and our economy — literally, our economy.”
The governor said he would push the Legislature to make permanent the 2 percent cap on local tax-levy growth, which he said has saved the average homeowner $3,200. “At least if we can say the 2 percent is going to be adhered to,” Cuomo said, “I think it will help give people confidence in the system . . . It’s making a difference in people’s lives.”
Michael Watt, regional director of the conservative Reclaim New York Initiative, said in response that the tax cap meant little in relation to the state’s overall property-tax burden. “Without addressing the leading role Albany plays in runaway state and local spending, limiting revenue through the tax cap will be a fruitless effort,” Watt said, “leaving the same taxpayers the governor aims to protect to be sacked with an unsustainable property-tax burden, regardless of the efforts made by local governments.”
Meanwhile, Cuomo’s lawsuit on behalf of the state against Congress for the curtailed state and local tax deductions will continue, and he said that New York Democrats in the House of Representatives — now part of the majority — will demand that the deduction be fully restored.
“What the federal government did with SALT was, it penalized New York more than it did any other state,” he said. “New York state is the number one donor state in the United States of America. We send more money to Washington than we get back, and we send more money that we don’t get back than any other state in the nation.”
Cuomo also included legislation in the budget proposal addressing the ongoing property reassessment in Nassau County.
Timothy Denton contributed to this story.