Volume 20, Number 47 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | April 6 - April 12, 2011
Austere budget is sign of times
BY Sheldon Silver
Despite some positive signs, our city is still facing challenging economic times. Tough decisions were made as we negotiated this year’s state budget. The lack of federal stimulus dollars, combined with the still-sluggish economy, meant an austere budget that will force all of us to tighten our belts.
However, given the great needs that exist here in our city and in our Downtown community, I made sure that we did not abandon our principles. Many of our seniors, our children and the most vulnerable among us are in greater need than ever. As an elected official, I consider it a moral obligation to provide help for those affected by the economy.
Supporting education has been a top priority of mine for my entire career in public service, and our budget increases education funding by $272 million over the Governor’s proposal for this school year, and by $800 million for the following year.
Of particular importance to Lower Manhattan, our budget rejected a proposal to change the way school construction is funded, helping to ensure that our much-needed new schools Downtown will be built. We restored funding to schools for the blind and deaf and to special education, because it is essential that we provide quality education for the full range of programs necessary to ensure our children have an appropriate learning environment.
Another long-standing priority of mine is universal pre-kindergarten, which we maintained. I believe the seeds for success are planted early in life, and we must focus as much on early education as we do on high school and college.
We also restored funding for the Early Intervention program, which provides crucial help for special needs children entering pre-school.
When it comes to higher education, I am committed to ensuring that our City University of New York system remains the best of its kind in the nation. That is why we restored critical funding to C.U.N.Y. and maintained the Tuition Assistance Program, which puts college within reach for so many New Yorkers striving to improve their lives and provide for their families. Obtaining a college degree is so important for competing in the job market of the 21st century, and it is vital that we prepare our citizens for those challenges.
When our seniors were threatened with the closure of several senior centers right here in Downtown Manhattan, I vowed that our final budget would provide the resources needed to keep them open. We have fulfilled that promise by fully restoring the state Title XX funding, which is used to operate senior centers. With essential services such as hot meals and health and wellness programs, these centers serve as a lifeline to thousands of my constituents.
Another threat to our seniors is the skyrocketing cost of prescription drugs. It is morally indefensible to ask anyone to choose between food, medicine and shelter, and that is why we restored money for the Elderly Pharmaceutical Insurance Coverage (E.P.I.C.) program. This vital resource helps seniors living on fixed incomes afford the medicine they need and, by making sure it was included in the budget, we will literally save lives.
Unemployment remains unacceptably high, and I am focused on creating jobs here in Lower Manhattan and throughout the city. Our Excelsior Jobs program gives tax incentives to businesses that create jobs in the high-tech and clean energy industries, both of which are vital to our future and could bring high-quality employment opportunities to our community.
We are also funding employment and training programs meant to get people back into the workforce now. As summer approaches, our young people will be able to take advantage of the Summer Youth Employment Program, which we saved in this year’s budget and which last year supported more than 35,000 jobs for teens and young adults throughout the city. By giving young adults the chance to work in diverse environments such as law firms, non-profits, hospitals and museums, we offer them invaluable experience and a foot in the door that could pay huge dividends in the future.
I believe this budget will enable our Lower Manhattan community to continue to rebuild and thrive. While we still face enormous challenges, our budget was able to make key investments that will serve our entire community today and down the road.
As we look ahead to the rest of our session in Albany, several important priorities remain. We will address the controversial issue of hydraulic fracturing, the gas drilling method that many people fear could threaten New York City’s water supply. I want to make it very clear that I will not allow any drilling that would contaminate our water with dangerous chemicals.
We are also working towards extending and expanding our rent regulations, which help keep millions of New Yorkers – and tens of thousands in Lower Manhattan – in their homes.
I will continue to press for policies in Albany that reflect our core values of compassion for our neighbors, resources for our children and our elderly and smart investments that create economic opportunity for all.
Sheldon Silver serves as Speaker of the New York State Assembly.