Plenty of pep “talk” on new state budget

BY KATHY KAHN
Special to The Rockland Times

Where's the beef? RCT reporter Kathy Kahn said Ken Adams' budget presentation spared us the details
Where’s the beef? RCT reporter Kathy Kahn said Ken Adams’ budget presentation spared us the details

Seeing is believing, but there was little tangible to see in the regional presentation on the state’s new budget presented in Orangetown last Friday.

Local officials, along with Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee (D) joined Empire State Development president Ken Adams as he presented a Power Point wrap-up of the new 2012-2014 state budget to approximately 14 people in attendance.

As part of the $135 billion budget package, $77 million was set aside to help shore up the partnership between SUNY/CUNY colleges from Suffolk to Chautauqua counties with established businesses, creating programs to fill vacancies for jobs no schools currently offer training for. “The most successful business programs will be written by the companies themselves,” Adams said.

To sway New York employers to hire returning and disabled veterans, the budget includes $74 million in tax credits to those who would help fill the gap. Families will benefit from the new budget, too, added Adams: “166,265 families will share the new $350 child care credit,” which will be parceled out during Cuomo’s election year and added the region would see another $9.8 million in school aid added into the new budget.

Although unemployment continues to hover at 9 percent statewide—ascertained by the number of unemployment claims filed and not including those whose benefits have been exhausted– Adams said the increase in the minimum wage to $9 by 2014 would ultimately help both workers and businesses. As of January, 2013, 89,000 workers in the Hudson Valley make less than $9 an hour, stated Adams. He also noted that unemployment insurance is among the lowest in the 49 states, with the maximum rate of $405 falling far behind what other states are paying their workers. “We’d like to join the 19 other states that pay 50 percent of the lost wage to the worker.”

Ten business incubators in the 10 regional council areas will partner with their respective public and private universities and take part in a $50 million venture fund for new businesses. “Seasoned investment volunteers,” said Adams, would keep on top of the incubators to insure their success.

Budgets have been flat for three years, Adams told officials, “although it is not bound to adhere to the two percent tax cap” imposed on its municipalities, the governor says the state take the lead and do what it is asking others to do.” He noted that not since the current governor’s father, Mario Cuomo, has a state budget been approved and signed before the April 1 deadline.

Adams said 300,000 new jobs have been created since January 2011, currently bringing the number of employed to 7.3 million private sector jobs statewide. Thom Kleiner, Hudson Valley Regional Representative for the NYS Commissioner of Labor, did not return requests for the actual number of those newly created jobs that were paying the minimum wage.

Casino gambling is also on the state’s table, and if approved by a voters’ referendum, would be allowed in certain parts of the state to boost or enhance tourism.

Many questions went unanswered during Adams’ whirlwind visit, including the fate of the Rockland Psychiatric Center the county bought or how graft would be weeded out during the building of the new Tappan Zee Bridge, a $3.9 billion project still awaiting final federal funding. Adams looked askance when asked if the RPC could be turned into affordable workforce housing.

Another question that remained unanswered was the fate of the full-day pre-kindergarten programs. As part of an introductory pilot program, “There is no long-term commitment based on funding,” said Annmarie Uhl, Blauvelt school board member. “How will schools be able to keep up the programs once the funding runs out?” Adams believes schools should be able to could come up with proactive ways to keep them in place but offered no specifics on how struggling school districts would be able to make that happen.