The ink is barely dry on this year’s state budget, but we can already glimpse two issues that will absorb media ink in next year’s budget: school aid and the DREAM Act.
School aid formulas in Albany, to borrow from Winston Churchill, are a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.
The riddle is how the state’s school aid formulas came to be. The mystery is how—despite being ruled unconstitutional in the landmark Campaign for Fiscal Equity (CFE) lawsuit—school aid formulas continue to be bound by the regional “shares” that were the basis for the Court of Appeals’ finding that the distribution of funds was unconstitutional.
The enigma is that intrastate Senate politics continues to lead to the same result, despite the fact that within the Senate’s new bipartisan governing coalition, a large majority would benefit from the “foundation aid” formula created to correct the constitutional defects.
Coming into this year’s budget negotiations, education advocates hoped that the foundation aid formula developed to comply with the court decision would be brought back to the commitment level made in 2007. The Great Recession blew a hole in the funding levels underlying that commitment. School aid did rise 5 percent in this year’s budget, but Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposal to reduce “high tax aid” was rebuffed by the Senate, leading Majority Coalition Co-Leader Sen. Dean Skelos to declare, “So it’s a win for Long Island.”
Answers can be found in the glue holding together the old Senate Republican majority. Upstate Republicans placed their priority on transportation and economic development projects, while Long Island Republicans placed their priority on securing a guaranteed “share” of school aid for their suburban districts.
In the new governing coalition, if the Independent Democratic Conference’s five senators joined with the 20 upstate Republicans on prioritizing foundation aid, they could perhaps move the Senate position away from the nine Republicans from Long Island who insist upon strict adherence to shares.
Three factors will make school aid a hot issue next year. First, a new mayor of New York will likely become a strong advocate for CFE reforms. Second, the smaller upstate districts are hurting, and the political pressure will likely increase dramatically on their senators—mostly Republicans—to place a much higher priority on education aid. Finally, 2014 will be an election year, heightening the political antennae of incumbents, given the popularity of school aid.
As for the DREAM Act, it was not enacted in this year’s budget, leaving Hispanic and immigrant advocates seething.
In 2013 Hispanic voters will be absolutely key to the outcome of the New York City mayoral and the Nassau County executive’s race (won by the GOP incumbent by less than 400 votes in 2009). Hispanics will likely comprise at least a fifth of the overall New York City mayoral vote and could be just under 10 percent in Nassau. I suspect the Hispanic vote will be at the forefront of both parties’ minds in 2014 if it proves decisive in electing New York’s mayor and/or Nassau’s county executive.
Moreover, the GOP lost their reapportionment bet. The Republicans came up short in the race for the new seat they created through the merger of the Mohawk and Upper HudsonValleys, which left Long Island’s GOP incumbents to absorb an increase in the minority population to 31 percent, according to the census. The Hispanic population is what is driving that surge; for example, 15.5 percent of Nassau County’s population is now Hispanic.
At least three GOP districts on Long Island now have voter registration bases where 20 percent or more of the vote is minority (Hannon, Boyle and Zeldin) and two more are close to or over 10 percent (Martins and Fuschillo), with several more likely to follow. One doubts that either side of the Senate’s majority coalition can safely ignore the DREAM Act in 2014.
Whatever else bobs to the top in next year’s budget battles, expect school aid and the DREAM Act to be in the mix.
Bruce N. Gyory is a political consultant with Corning Place Communications and an adjunct professor of political science at SUNY Albany.