From major funding increases for local schools and higher education institutions to MTA payroll tax relief for Mid-Hudson libraries to ensuring the preservation of world-class farmland, the just-passed 2015-16 New York State Budget makes a significant commitment to the Hudson Valley’s future. This is the third state budget passed since I became a member of the New York State Assembly and I am proud to see that our advocacy is resulting in increased investment by New York State in our beautiful and vital Hudson Valley region.
Strong schools are essential to attracting economic development, as well of course, as their crucial role of educating our future leaders, and this year’s budget grows school aid by $9.6 million, or 4.1 percent, for schools in my district. This brings total education funding for schools in the 106th Assembly District this year to more than $245 million, part of a nearly $1.6 billion increase in education aid over last year across the state, including $70 million towards universal pre-kindergarten for upstate children.
The budget provides an additional $19.9 million for community colleges, increasing base aid by $100 per full-time equivalent (FTE) student, and including a 20 percent increase to opportunity programs. This will directly help both Columbia-Greene and Dutchess Community Colleges as they work to keep college affordable and train the Hudson Valley’s workforce for the jobs of tomorrow.
The final budget continues its commitment to the region’s booming agricultural industry, setting aside $20 million dollars to protect working farmland in the Hudson Valley. With plenty of water, outstanding soils, a burgeoning craft drinks industry — breweries,distilleries,cideries and wineries — as well as our growing number of vegetable, fruit, dairy and livestock farms, our agricultural sector has a bright future here in the Hudson Valley. But the region’s natural beauty, charm and proximity to NYC make it ripe for development and land values are far beyond what most beginning farmers can afford. These farmland preservation funds are essential not only for our local and state economy, but for homeland security to ensure New York families always have access to fresh, healthy local food to put on their tables.
We also successfully restored funding to important programs that benefit our region’s farms and farmers, including $1.9 million for farm viability, education and economic development; $1 million for infrastructure grants for the Beginning Farmers NY Fund; more than $700,000 for apple producers; $500,000 for low income seniors to shop at farmers markets; and $200,000 for hops and barley research.
Also of note is a $15 million increase in funding for the Environmental Protection Fund – for a total of $177 million – and a 10-year extension of the Brownfield Cleanup program, which encourages the redevelopment of contaminated properties. Further, in response to the alarming increase in the volume of crude oil being transported through the Hudson Valley via train and barge, the budget strengthens the Oil Spill Fund and authorizes $2.1 million to be used for prevention and cleanup. While we await federal action to mitigate this escalating risk, these funds are a step in the right direction.
For the second year, our office has secured significant state funds to help meet the increasing need for mental health services in Dutchess County following the closing of state facilities in recent years. This $3.5 million will help support integrated care and innovative initiatives like the proposed diversion program for those with addiction and mental health issues.
Upstate colleagues and I made a successful push to increase funding for upstate transit systems by $25 million this year. This aid will help improve services and ensure fiscal stability for organizations like the Dutchess County LOOP Bus System, which thousands of riders rely on each week to get to their jobs, school, doctors’ appointments and local stores. In addition, $200 million was put in the budget for the New York State Water Infrastructure Improvement Act of 2015 to assist cash-strapped municipalities in repairing and upgrading their wastewater and drinking water systems. The budget also maintains the Consolidated Local Street and Highway Improvement Program (CHIPs) at over $438 million and provides an additional $50 million for extreme weather recovery, much needed after this brutal winter.
In a further effort to jumpstart the upstate economy, this year’s budget provides $1.5 billion for the Upstate Revitalization Initiative. The initiative will focus on projects that strengthen, revitalize and grow infrastructure, communities, the workforce and tourism and will be run alongside the Regional Economic Development Councils process already in place. The upstate regions will compete for three top prizes of $500 million to be paid out over five years.
Feel free to call our office 845.454.1703 or email at email@example.com for more information on any of these budget initiatives.