North Country senator says state budget good for schools, bad for developmentally disabled
Wednesday, March 27, 2013 - 9:21 am

Sen. Betty Little, who represents six eastern St. Lawrence County towns, said the state budget agreement will be a boon for schools, but lacks funding for developmentally disabled programs.

“The new budget keeps state spending below a two percent cap for a third consecutive year, funds programs and services important to many in our communities and includes new tax relief to help families and businesses,” Little said.

Little said school aid will increase nearly $1 billion.

“This funding is very important for districts seeing pension and health care costs rise and trying to operate within the property tax cap. The pension stabilization plan proposed by the governor and modified by the Legislature and Comptroller will give schools and local governments an option to control one of their biggest cost drivers,” she said.

Little said the budget also provides additional funding for bridge and road repairs, which she said will relieve the burden faced by many highway departments.

Although she is pleased with many aspects of the budget, Little said funding for support programs for the developmentally disabled were lacking.

“I am disappointed the budget does not fully restore funding for programs serving the developmentally disabled. This issue is complicated by a settlement reached by the federal government and state related to Medicaid overpayment. It is something my colleagues and I are very concerned about and will work to address in the months ahead to minimize the impact on critically important local programs,” she said.

Despite its flaws, Little said the budget will offers help to middle and low income families.

“The phase-in increase of the minimum wage is a compromise that reflects the reality of higher expenses for workers but also a weak economy and the challenge many small business owners face trying to meet payroll. A refundable tax credit for businesses employing teenage employees will help ensure that higher wages don’t result in fewer jobs being available.

“Although my colleagues and I proposed a complete elimination of the 18-a utility tax, to help businesses and homeowners, the agreement reached includes a three year phase-out. The budget creates a new tax credit for any business that hires a returning veteran. Most families with kids will see a tax refund next year through a new rebate and the STAR program grows by $300 million over the next two years. The budget also ensures the continuation of the lowest state income tax rates for middle-income taxpayers in 60 years.