With budget talks due to resume, majority leader says pie has shrunk in wake of terror attack
By JAY JOCHNOWITZ, State editor
First published: Thursday, September 27, 2001
Talks among state leaders over a multibillion-dollar
supplemental budget, which ground to a halt after the World Trade Center
attack, are about to resume, but New York may now have even less money to
spread around, Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno warned Wednesday.
His statements underscored complaints from nonprofit groups
that the lack of a supplemental budget jeopardizes their ability to provide
services, if not their existence.
Although Bruno said he, Gov. George Pataki and Assembly
Speaker Sheldon Silver will resume negotiations in the next two to four
weeks, the trade center crisis will be a priority.
"Everyone out there has to lower their expectations on what
the government of New York state is going to be able to provide in financial
resources,'' Bruno said.
The Division of Budget in its latest financial report said
the disaster could mean up to at least $1 billion in lost revenue, leaving
leaders perhaps $2 billion to $4 billion to work with. The state plans to tap
its surplus for now to deal with the loss.
But with money increasingly tight because of the trade
center disaster and the slowing economy, groups that have been awaiting a
supplemental budget say the delay threatens to curtail or close an
undetermined number of social services programs. It would happen at a time,
advocates say, when New York needs those programs to help people cope with
the economy and to assist survivors and families of victims of the Sept. 11
trade center attack.
"In the midst of this, we're supposed to be sending out
layoff notices?'' said Anne Erickson, executive director of the Greater
Upstate Law Project. "There's no reason for this.''
The Legislature approved a $79.6 billion baseline budget in
August and another $51 billion in reappropriations -- money left over from
past budgets -- this month. But it left out money for such things as the
Environmental Protection Fund, economic development and welfare, expecting
that would force Pataki to negotiate. With a supplemental budget still
undone, many nonprofits have no new money for the coming year, and some say
they are rapidly running low.
"We're down to two payrolls here,'' said Joanne Schlang,
executive director of Treatment Alternatives to Street Crime, a program that
works with about 150 clients in residential and treatment programs as an
alternative to prison. The program, which depends on $350,000 in state funds
for about half its budget, is one of about 20 around that state that are in
similar straits, Schlang said.
Another big question mark is education. The Legislature
approved Pataki's request for a $382 million school aid increase and put in
another $245 million in building aid, but vowed to give more in a
The delay affects not only school districts but initiatives
like an $11.2 million program that helps parents and teachers work with
bilingual students to meet new Regents standards. In a news conference
Wednesday, advocates of the program said that what remains of last year's
funding runs out this week. That could force the closure soon of 13 Bilingual
Education Technical Assistance Centers in the state, including one that
serves 17 counties, about 100 school districts and more than 2,000 students
in and around the Capital Region.
Mark Lewis, a lobbyist with the state Association of
Bilingual Education, said advocates understand the state is focused on New
York City, but "we also need the governor and the Legislature to focus on the
state budget.'' Without the program, he said, the 30 percent dropout rate
among immigrant youngsters will rise, creating "an educational disaster for
200,000 students in New York state.''
State officials also have yet to allocate $1.5 billion in
federal funds for Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, a block grant
program that replaced welfare.
The money would normally go to welfare, job training, day
care, housing and other programs, said Ron Deutsch, executive director of the
Statewide Emergency Network for Social and Economic Security (SENSES), a
coalition of nonprofits. Such programs could soon have to close, or cut
services and lay off workers.
Failure to spend the money could also have repercussions
next year when the TANF program comes up for federal reauthorization.
"Congress will look at New York and say, do they really need it?'' Deutsch
While some groups say they are surviving for now on small
reserves, others are talking of raising fees, said G. William Martinez of the
Council of Community Services of New York State. Among them are day care
centers that people just getting back into the work force rely on.
"A lot of those parents who are making minimum wage, barely
making ends meet, are having to decide whether it's worth it to have a job
without affordable day care,'' he said.