Chris McKenna

School districts in the Hudson Valley and Catskills dodged potential funding cuts on Wednesday when state lawmakers reached a budget deal that kept their main source of state aid intact, despite the huge tax loss New York is expecting from the coronavirus pandemic.

All 732 districts in New York are set to get the same amounts of foundation aid they got last year.

Districts also will get their usual state payments for expenses such as transportation and past building projects, resulting in overall aid increases for many of them. That came despite Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s warning that the state must cut school funding to absorb a projected loss of $10 billion to $15 billion in previously expected tax revenue.

State lawmakers were thrilled to have staved off funding cuts to schools, one of their highest priorities each budget season.

“Protecting education aid for our local schools has always been paramount,” Sen. James Skoufis, D-Cornwall, said in a statement. “When the virus struck at the heart of New York, the Governor was advancing hundreds of millions of dollars in cuts to our schools that would have affected every student and every taxpayer. Working with like-minded colleagues, we were able to avoid this catastrophic situation and keep funding levels in place.”

Assemblyman Jonathan Jacobson, D-City of Newburgh, said of the maintained funding levels: “I think that’s a great accomplishment, given the economic realities that we’re in this year.”

But will New York actually have the money that it’s promising schools? E.J. McMahon, founder and research director of the Empire Center for Public Policy, scoffed at the aid figures distributed on Wednesday, saying he doubted the state could afford them without a federal bailout or long-term borrowing.

Cuomo has been critical of the $2 trillion economic relief package enacted in Washington last week for not helping New York — the state hit worst by the coronavirus outbreak — fill the enormous budget shortfall it suddenly faced as a result of the economic collapse.

By contrast, both U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer and Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, D-Cold Spring, have presented a broader and more favorable view of the bill’s benefits for New York, touting what they say would amount to tens of billions of dollars for its residents, businesses, governments and hospitals.

And at least one of the benefits on Schumer’s list revealed some of the very budget support Cuomo said he wished the bill had: $1 billion in school aid for New York, which state lawmakers say helped forestall the predicted cuts.

Skoufis said on Wednesday that he hopes the state will not only avoid cuts but actually increase aid to schools if Congress passes a fourth bill for the coronavirus crisis, one focused on bolstering state budgets. He said he viewed the current aid amounts as “the baseline.”

© 2020 Times Herald-Record

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The Empire Center is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit think tank located in Albany, New York. Our mission is to make New York a better place to live and work by promoting public policy reforms grounded in free-market principles, personal responsibility, and the ideals of effective and accountable government.