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Hochul’s budget director leaves door open to restoring school aid reductions in the state budget

At left, Gov. Kathy Hochul's budget director, Blake Washington, updates reporters on progess on the state's budget on March 5, 2024.
Karen DeWitt
New York Public News Network
At left, Gov. Kathy Hochul's budget director, Blake Washington, updates reporters on progess on the state's budget on March 5, 2024.

Gov. Kathy Hochul’s budget director Blake Washington said Tuesday that a recent revenue consensus meeting with the State Legislature found there is an additional $1.3 billion in tax collections coming in to the state than previously determined.

Washington spoke with the media on Tuesday, and gave an interview to the New York Public News Network's Karen DeWitt.

Washington said the money could potentially be used to reverse changes to the state’s school aid formula that Hochul proposed. She wants to end the provision known as “hold harmless," which guarantees that no school district would receive less state aid than it did in the previous year.

The change would result in over $400 million in cuts, and half of New York’s school districts would see reductions. Washington said the administration is ready to talk with state lawmakers about the school aid and other potential restorations.

“We’ll be looking forward to working with the Legislature to do just that,” Washington said. 

Later, when pressed in a media availability with state Capitol reporters, he said that the newly discovered revenues could go specifically toward restoring funding lost by ending the hold harmless provision.

“Modifying that is probably fair game,” Washington said.

Washington also defended the governor’s proposal to change the way the rate of inflation is calculated when distributing school aid. Instead of accounting for the actual inflation rate from one year to the next, the amount would be based on an average of the rate of inflation over the past 10 years.

Hochul’s school aid plan has drawn bipartisan opposition in the Legislature. Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said on Tuesday that she is “very concerned” about the proposed reductions.

Washington said the changes are justified because most schools in the state have seen smaller student populations in recent years, yet the foundation aid formula has stayed the same.
“75% of the school districts have lost 20% or more of their student body in that same period of time,” Washington said. “So, the proposals to rationalize where the resources are going, making sure we're not paying for empty seats, but also channel resources to the high needs and growing districts, that’s the whole thrust of the governor’s proposal.”

Washington said schools received a record amount of state and federal school aid over the past two years and should have better budgeted for the future.

The budget director also spoke about state spending on the migrant crisis, saying that he believes a $2.4 billion investment, including drawing down $500 million from the state’s reserve funds, is all the state can afford right now.

The money will help feed and clothe the influx of tens of thousands of migrants from the southern border into New York, and offer them services to find housing and employment. He said the problem needs to be fixed by the federal government, where President Joe Biden and Republicans in Congress are gridlocked over a solution. 

The budget is due April 1, and the Easter holiday begins on March 29, leaving even less time for negotiations.

Washington maintained that the final deal could be reached before then, and that he is “cautiously optimistic” that a deal could be achieved before then. 

“A budget director will never say never. The budget can be done on time, if we're all rowing in the right direction,” he said. “I know what we can do when we're all collaborating, and have our minds focus on the same outcome.”

But he left open the possibility of a slightly tardy budget, saying that an agreement on a good budget is the “most important part."

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for the New York Public News Network, composed of a dozen newsrooms across the state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.