ALBANY - The state budget was finalized prior to deadline for the fourth year in a row, and named a "blueprint for success" by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Sen. Cathy Young, R-Olean, spoke highly of the spending plan after it was passed by the Senate around 10:30 p.m. on Monday, and approved by the Assembly shortly thereafter.
"The budget covers jobs, the economy, education and great health care initiatives," Sen. Cathy Young, R-Olean, said.
"Really, across the board, it's an excellent budget that really helps the people whom I serve," Young added.
Education funding was the largest growth component of the budget, with a $1.1 billion increase, bringing total statewide support for public schools to $22.1 billion.
The enacted budget, approved by the Senate on Monday, contains an increase of school aid by $500 million more than originally proposed in the governor's budget.
According to Young, $578.5 million has been designated for aid to schools across her district, which is an increase of $30.3 million more than originally proposed.
Young's district includes all of Chautauqua and Cattaraugus counties, among other areas.
"Our children deserve to have the best learning opportunities possible," Young said. "Senate Republicans worked hard to increase school aid to give all students the opportunity to succeed."
Rural school districts will benefit especially from the final budget, she continued.
"Overwhelmingly, our schools said they needed Gap Elimination Adjustment restorations as their number one priority," Young said. "Senate Republicans' insistence on GEA relief for public schools during budget negotiations resulted in more than $602 million in restorations."
Introduced in 2010, the GEA was enacted as a way to close New York's then $10 billion budget deficit.
"We prioritized reducing the GEA, and the Senate pushed very hard at the negotiating table to get a good result," Young said, noting that her district contains 46 school districts. "If schools are still having financial difficulties we'll continue to do everything we can to help them."
Reforms made to the Common Core will also alleviate the stress of students and parents, Young said.
The budget bans standardized "bubble tests" for young children, prevents unfair test results from being used in grade promotion, with an emphasis on instructional time for learning and teaching, not over-testing.
A $1.5 billion property tax relief program was designated to provide taxpayers direct property tax relief over the next three years in school districts and municipalities that develop plans to reduce costs and increase efficiencies.
"We've seen the unfortunate outcome of heavy taxes when we've lost jobs in Chautauqua County, and recently, when companies move to other states," Young said. "We want to reverse that trend."
Furthermore, up to 2.8 million homeowners could receive property tax rebates as an outcome of the program which is designed to encourage communities to keep property taxes under control.
"The vast majority of my constituents tell me they need relief from suffocating property taxes and this is really to help out families and seniors," she added, noting how a $14 billion increase in taxes was destructive to the Southern Tier's economy between 2009-10.
She said immediate results will be seen in the coming year, after corporate tax on manufacturers is eliminated.
A real-property tax credit of 20 percent for manufacturers leasing their own property was approved by the Senate, along with acceleration of the elimination the 18-a energy tax surcharge, which will save businesses and residential rate payers an estimated $600 million over the next three years.
The 18-a surcharge imposes fees on electric bills from public utilities to fund operations of energy-related agencies and authorities.
"This focus on economic growth is extremely positive. We need good-paying jobs for our families and career opportunities for our young people so they can stay after they graduate," Young said. "This budget is a major step in the right direction."
Funding for pothole and road repairs was included in the budget, totalling an extra $40 million.
The extra transportation money was included by lawmakers in response to the unusually harsh winter, which severely damaged roads.
"Every day, I hear from travelers who are upset about rough roads and the potholes that are just about everywhere," Young said. "Poor road conditions can be a contributing factor in car crashes and can cause expensive damage to vehicles. It is a serious safety and pocketbook issue."
The pothole fund will be distributed under the same formula as the Consolidated Highway Improvement Program (CHIP), which was brought up to $438 million to help municipalities afford road maintenance.
The budget also includes capital road and bridge funds, totalling $3.7 billion statewide.
"These capital dollars will enhance our infrastructure, grow jobs and boost our economy," Young said.
Several health initiatives were included in the budget as well.
A $2.5 million increase was set aside for Doctors Across New York, a program which provides incentives for the recruitment of doctors in rural areas such as Chautauqua County.
The Elderly Pharmaceutical Insurance Coverage program was expanded in order to aid seniors in affording prescriptions.
Income eligibility is expanded from $35,000 to $75,000 for singles, and from $50,000 to $100,000 for married seniors. Approximately $4.1 million in increased funding will be used to help expand the program by 10
percent, providing coverage to an additional 25,000 senior citizens across New York.
A $5 million increase in funding for community services for the elderly such as transportation assistance and home delivery meals will also be implemented.
Additionally, $450,000 was included in the budget toward opioid prevention, treatment and addiction services to address the growing problems of substance abuse and heroin addiction.