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How will rural schools fare under new NYS budget?

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State Senator Betty Little says she's keeping an eye on three big issues in the final hours of budget talks in Albany: Aid for cash-strapped rural schools, the minimum wage hike, and the planned closure of at least two state prisons in New York.

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Reported by

Brian Mann
Adirondack Bureau Chief

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The biggest item on Sen. Little's list is financial aid to rural schools in the North Country that are struggling to operate with flat state aid and a two percent cap on property tax increases.

One pressing problem this session, Little said, is Governor Cuomo's plan to cut special funding for schools that appear to have strong property tax bases but are actually in relatively poor rural areas with low enrollment rates.

"High tax aid is given to a lot of the schools who have a large amount of property value, for instance lake front properties, but low wealth."

Frequently what happens is when the negotiations end up, because of the large cities downstate, it goes to a per-student basis. That's where we get hurt.
High tax aid has also supported schools in Hamilton County that receive property tax revenue from the state forest preserve.

"Because of the property value, it makes them appear to be much wealthier than the people there [actually] are," she argued.

In his executive budget, Cuomo proposed slashing high tax aid by roughly $50 million statewide. Little says she worries that in last-minute talks, rural schools could lose more dollars.

"Frequently what happens is when the negotiations end up, because of the large cities downstate, it goes to a per-student basis. That's where we get hurt."

Little is also continuing to push for a roll-back of the plan pushed by many Democrats to hike the state's minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $9 an hour.

"The people and the businesses I talk to say that if there is any increase, it should be smaller, not the 27 percent increase as proposed."

But Little acknowledged that political support for a wage hike appears strong in both the Assembly and the Senate.

"Not only the Democrat majority [in the Assembly] but the independent group that we work with in the Senate, that's one of their issues as well."

Little says she's also keeping an eye on last-minute pressure from Democrats in the state Senate to close a state prison in Chateuagay in northern Franklin County.

"We're hoping not to have any prisons close in the North Country. We're hoping to counteract that."

Governor Cuomo has proposed closing two other prisons downstate, in Manhattan and Dutchess County. The downsizing follows a sharp decline in inmate populations over the last decade.

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