State Legislature Approves $142B Budget; Education, Ethics Reforms Anchor Spending Plan

State Legislature Approves $142B Budget; Education, Ethics Reforms Anchor Spending Plan

Photo: Gov. Andrew Cuomo (l.) and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie earlier in March celebrated reaching an agreement on ethics reforms. Legislative leaders had reason to rejoice again on Wednesday morning, after the 2015-2016 budget was officially approved. Photo Courtesy of Gov. Cuomo’s Office.

Governor Andrew Cuomo and leaders of the state Legislature early Wednesday morning announced the passage of the 2015-2016 budget.

Anchored by education and ethics reforms—the two issues that had lawmakers burning the midnight oil Tuesday—the $142 billion spending plan boasts new investments in rebuilding and growing the Empire State economy, including $1.5 billion for the Upstate Revitalization Initiative and $500 million to make New York the first in the nation to have statewide broadband.

“This $142 billion budget is the most meaningful that we have agreed to in many years, not because of what we are spending but because of how we are spending it,” Cuomo said. “We are not just maintaining services and the status quo with this budget. We are investing in a new future for our state.”

And for the fifth consecutive year, the budget holds spending growth below 2 percent, continuing a record of fiscal discipline, according to Cuomo’s office, that has reversed decades of state budgets where spending grew at a higher rate than inflation or personal income growth.

“I am pleased that we have arrived at a responsible budget agreement that lives within the 2 percent spending cap, rejects tax increases and meets the needs of every region of this state…” said Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Nassau). “The budget also includes a blueprint for significant new reforms designed to improve performance in the classroom, reduce over-testing and promote excellence in teaching. In addition, we make sound investments in our infrastructure to create new jobs and encourage the private sector to build and grow. Working together, the Legislature and governor have also significantly tightened up the state’s ethics and disclosure laws to improve transparency and restore the public’s trust.”

The 2015-2016 plan increases state education support to $23.5 billion, bolstering Cuomo’s comprehensive Education Transformation Act of 2015; components include funding for a new full scholarship program for SUNY/CUNY for top students who commit to teach in New York for five years;  the first statewide, uniform admissions standards for teacher preparation programs; state will now also require teachers to complete 100 hours of continuing education and recertify every five years or lose their licenses; and a redesigned teacher evaluation system will be established whereby educators are rated in two categories: student performance and teacher observations.

Ethics reforms include what Cuomo called “the strongest outside income disclosure laws in the nation”: all public officials must disclose the nature of each source of outside compensation in excess of $1,000; no legislator, legislative employee or state officer may receive any kind of compensation, directly or indirectly, in connection with a pending bill or resolution; all public officials who personally provide services whether they work individually or as a member or employee of a business or firm, and receives compensation from a client/customer in excess of $5,000 must disclose the name of the client/customer, the services rendered, the amount of compensation and whether the services were related to governmental action.

By Michael V. Cusenza


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