Why leaders went to Mount Vernon

With help from Shawn Ness

More than a dozen local, state, and federal elected officials braved the cold on the steps of Benjamin Turner Middle School today to push back on cuts that would take away $2.9 million of Mount Vernon City School District’s foundation aid.

The district is one of 337 statewide that would see cuts under the proposed budget. The rally was the latest push by New York State United Teachers to shed light on the impact Gov. Kathy Hochul’s proposed changes to school aid would have.

Among those in the crowd were Senate and Assembly Education Committee chairs Sen. Shelley Mayer and Assemblymember Michael Benedetto. The two said they feel confident both one house bills will restore the funding that schools lost in Hochul’s proposal.

The group called on the state to restore “hold harmless,” a policy that prevents districts from seeing cuts to funding; reject a change to the inflationary factor and fund a long-term study of the foundation aid formula.

What remains unclear is what the enacted budget will look like after negotiations in the coming weeks. Hochul has pushed for the cuts to address, in part, enrollment shifts among districts.

“This year we have come to a point where all parties, [the Senate, the Assembly and Governor’s office] realize that something has to be done here,” Benedetto said of the antiquated foundation aid formula. “And we will ensure in allocating funds in the budget to address that through a study on the foundation aid, and how it should be tweaked to make it fairer.”

Mount Vernon Superintendent Veronica Smith, joined by Rep. Jamaal Bowman, made a passionate plea to the crowd for increased funding. The school was deemed by the state Comptroller’s Office to be in fiscal stress. Smith said without the cut to foundation aid, her Westchester County district was already looking at cost-cutting measures. She noted the proposed cuts would be a “catastrophic” setback.

“We’ve been struggling for some time; we really can’t afford to take that type of hit,” Smith said to the crowd. “We have already cut staff as we attempt to navigate our way out of this fiscal stress. Losing $2.9 million would be catastrophic for several years.”

NYSUT President Melinda Person said she is encouraged by the commitment from legislative leadership to restore school aid funding in one-house bills coming out in the next two weeks. But she noted that means nothing if it doesn’t make it into the final budget.

“We’re not going to let up; we’re going to keep talking about this right up until the budget is passed,” Person said in an interview with POLITICO. “It’s so important that we get an on-time budget this year. If districts don’t get that on-time budget, they will have to use the governor’s numbers and implement cuts.” — Katelyn Cordero

NASSAU COUNTY TRANS BAN: Attorney General Tish James is demanding Bruce Blakeman, the Nassau County executive, end his ban on transgender women from playing on women’s sports teams in county-run facilities.

James called Blakeman’s executive order a violation of New York’s Civil and Human Rights Laws.

“The law is clear: You cannot discriminate against a person because of their gender identity or expression. We have no room for hate or bigotry in New York,” James said in a statement. “This executive order is transphobic and blatantly illegal.”

Blakeman must rescind the order in five days or face legal action.

“We will protect women from bullying from transgender males who want to compete against biological females … We think that since there are other avenues for them to compete that there is no discrimination.” Blakeman said during a press conference today.

Blakeman noted that he has discussed with his lawyers that since the law allows for the creation of classifications that are reasonable, and that they believe they have done so. — Shawn Ness

BUDGET DUE DATE: The state budget is expected to pass in about 30 days. But Gov. Kathy Hochul is hedging on whether it can get put to bed by then.

Hochul today in Binghamton told reporters the April 1 deadline may be breached because it falls a day after Easter.

“I’ve already heard from the leaders and the members that they don’t want to disrupt the religious observances and so that could kick it into a little bit of overtime,” she said. “That’s the only hesitation I see in getting it done on time. I’m striving to get it done as soon as we can.”

Hochul has not placed a premium on having a budget completed by April 1 like her predecessor, former Gov. Andrew Cuomo, did over the past decade. The budget last year wasn’t completed until May 3, more than a month past the start of the state’s fiscal year.

Hochul’s $233 billion budget plan includes incentives meant to spur housing. She also wants to shift funding from school districts that have had declines in enrollment, a proposal Democrats and Republicans have pushed back on.

The Democratic-controlled houses of the Legislature will release their own spending proposals as early as next week. The resolutions are non-binding, but provide a roadmap for where lawmakers want to take the spending talks over the next four weeks. Nick Reisman

Critics of Mayor Eric Adams’ 30- and 60-day limits on migrant shelter stays pushed back fiercely today on the restrictions as “cruel,” “inhumane” and “heartless.”

Progressive elected officials and housing advocates rallied on the steps of City Hall for Council Member Shahana Hanif’s bill to prohibit city agencies from imposing length-of-stay restrictions.

State Sen. Brad Hoylman-Sigal and Assemblymember Catalina Cruz have introduced similar bills in Albany.

“A shelter system in New York City was created to stabilize people, to help them on their journey,” Council Member Alexa Avilés said at the rally. “This rule does exactly the opposite.”

Critics have additionally argued that pushing migrants, including families, out of shelters makes it harder for the newcomers to apply for TPS, asylum and work authorization.

Adams administration officials have credited the 30- and 60-day limits with driving down the population of migrants dependent on city resources, saying a rollback would add billions of dollars to the city budget. They’ve said migrants may accept one-way tickets to the destination of their choice or reapply for a shelter bed, but the single migrant adults seeking their next 30 days in shelters have been made to wait for days and even weeks for a new placement.

“A hotel room is no place to grow up or raise a family, and a congregate setting is no place to establish a new American life,” an Adams spokesperson added. “That is why we are so focused on helping people move from shelter into more self-sufficient lives.”

At a council hearing Friday on the bill to reverse the limits, legislators and administration officials, including Social Services Commissioner Molly Wasow Park, were in agreement on at least one point: They said the root of the crisis is the lack of affordable housing in the city. Emily Ngo

MATCHMAKERS: Public matching funds are proving popular with state legislative candidates.

The state Public Campaign Finance Board on Friday announced 316 candidates for the state Senate and Assembly are participating in the program.

This is the first year in which candidates running for the state Legislature can receive matching funds based on donations to their campaigns.

“We are pleased to see such a high level of interest in the program in its inaugural year,” Cheryl Couser, the board’s executive director, said. “It has attracted a high level of interest from candidates from all corners of the state.”

The deadline for in-person registration was Feb. 26, but applications that are postmarked by that date can still qualify. Nick Reisman

WFP ENDORSES: The Working Families Party on Friday endorsed more than 100 members of the state Legislature for reelection.

The endorsements come as races for all 213 seats in the Legislature will be decided by voters this year.

“With more New Yorkers than ever struggling with the high cost of living, we need elected leaders who will fight to level the playing field for working people and make New York a place where people can actually afford to live and raise a family,” Co-Directors Ana Maria Archila and Jasmine Gripper said in a statement.

The list of endorsements can be found here. Nick Reisman

CABS AND BUSES: Assemblymember Zohran Mamdani wants congestion pricing to work. And for it to be successful, there needs to be more help for the MTA and an expansion of mass transit.

Mamdani, a Queens Democrat, said today at the MTA’s hearing on congestion pricing that lawmakers need to make “critical investments” in mass transit in the budget.

Mamdani has pushed for an expansion of bus service in the city in order to give commuters more options once tolls below 60th Street in Manhattan take effect.

At the same time, Mamdani is part of a push for adding a carveout to the tolls. He wants yellow cabs to be exempt.

“I’ve made this a priority and hope to see the MTA advocate for service improvements before congestion pricing begins,” he said. Nick Reisman

The NYPD officer who slammed a Manhattan judge named the wrong one. (Daily News)

Starting today, all New York City businesses must put their trash in containers, the latest push to end the era of piled bags on city streets. (The New York Times)

A Washington County man who shot a young woman riding in an SUV that accidentally turned into his driveway, was sentenced to 26⅓ years to life in prison. (Times Union)


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