North Country's state senators critical of state budget
Two North Country state senators have released statements slamming the recently passed 2019-20 New York state budget.
"Unfortunately, the 2019-2020 New York State budget confirms some our biggest fears when it comes to the direction of our state. This new spending plan does nothing to address the needs of the upstate economy, the outward-migration of families or the suffering rural communities that make up the bulk of our state," according to a news release from the office of Sen. Patty Ritchie, R-Heuvelton. "Instead, the budget includes a mish-mash of progressive policies aimed improving life for those downstate, as well as billions of dollars in new taxes and spending that will make it harder for New Yorkers to make ends meet. The real winners in this budget are criminals—who will be afforded a series of new benefits as a result of the new spending plan—and politicians, who will reap the benefits of a new, political welfare state."“The newly adopted state budget will create some tough financial challenges for local governments and local taxpayers by cutting assistance for highway repairs and changing aid to municipalities (AIM) funding. I am also very concerned that the election law reforms approved by the Legislature earlier this year are not being backed with sufficient financial resources from the state, creating yet another unfunded mandate on our counties,” said a prepared statement from Sen. Betty Little, R-Queensbury. “I’ve been a proponent of making the property tax cap permanent and am pleased to see that in the final agreement. However, adding to the financial stress of local governments, as this budget does through mandates, is counterproductive.
The Ritchie release attacks what they describe as $1.4 billion in "new taxes," but doesn't offer any details.
“Last year, we were successful in funding many critical programs and services in the budget, but did so while keeping out new tax increases. Unfortunately, this new budget further reinforces New York State’s high tax reputation by increasing taxes over 1 billion dollars,” Little’s office said.
Ritchie's office says the budget includes a number of cuts. They say it "disproportionately underfunds school aid, with a far greater amount of support aimed at New York City schools—including a $12 million line item specifically to Yonkers—effectively shortchanging every other area of the state."
Her office also criticizes the budget for cutting state aid to localities "by linking $59 million of Aid and Incentives for Municipalities (AIM) funding to local sales tax revenue."
The release also slams $20 million in library construction grants cuts and eliminating "funding for critical access hospitals that serve rural communities," " $5 million in capital funding for county fairs and $5 million for animal shelters," "funding to combat EEE and cuts funding for rabies prevention in half," and "$1 million in funding for Lyme Disease research and awareness funding." Ritchie's office said the budget also "provides $27 million in funding to provide free education for illegal immigrants."
“And while this year, as in years past, there are many worthwhile programs and services in the budget, I am dismayed to see funding for Lyme disease cut out given the Legislature’s previous bipartisan support and the very obvious need of sustaining ongoing research and public outreach,” Little’s office said.
Ritchie's office also slammed several criminal justice reforms included in the budget. The release used the phrase "criminals' bill of rights" as a heading pointing out that it allows the closure of up to three prisons. It also says the new bail reform will allow "90 percent of those arrested for crimes" to be released without posting bail, but with no citation of where the number came from. It also points out, without getting into any detail, "new changes that will make it more difficult for police officers to do their jobs." Her office also criticizes the changes for restricting public access to mugshots.
“Certainly the proposal to close three state prisons is a big concern. Double bunking and crowded dormitories make our prisons less safe for inmates and the correction officers. And, no one can dispute that our region has suffered more than any other by prison closures as shuttered facilities sit empty years later with little hope of any kind of economic activity. I will be pushing hard to ensure we are not targeted once again,” Little’s office said.
The Ritchie release closes with a criticism of publicly-funded election campaigns. It says the measure "establishes a system where taxpayers will now fund political campaigns" with $100 million in taxpayer funds aside to pay for robo-calls, mailers, and TV commercials instead of school aid and healthcare."
Ritchie represents the 48th Senate District, which includes most of northern and western St. Lawrence County.
Little’s 45th Senate District includes part of eastern and central St. Lawrence County.