Norris Provides State Budget Update

A Column from Assemblyman Mike Norris (R,C-Lockport)

On behalf of the constituents of the 144th District, I voted no on the state budget. Since the 2018-19 Enacted State Budget, the downstate-controlled legislative Majorities have increased spending more than $66 billion, which is more than two-thirds of all state budgets across the country. The current rate of spending in New York state has been and continues to be unsustainable, driven by our costly Medicaid programs and, now, the funding of illegal migrants.

Sadly, New York state leads the nation in population loss and is at the bottom of other states—ranking 49th on the state business tax climate index and 50th in the amount of individual income tax. This is directly tied to the amount of state spending, taxation and burdensome regulations that New York families, farmers and small businesses encounter here. 

Further, buried in the budget was the RAPID Act, which expands the state’s authority to approve transmission lines to industrial solar and wind generating facilities. This is New York state’s most recent effort to eliminate local control and trample on the private property rights upstate. I continue to adamantly oppose the policy of the state consolidating its power because it fundamentally alters the character of our communities, destroys rich agricultural soils and infringes on our local home rule rights. 

I believe New York state needs to get back to the basics and properly invest in education, public protection and infrastructure. That’s why I continue to advocate for our region’s fair share and the priorities that are important to Western New Yorkers.

Regarding education, I am proud that the Legislature, in a bipartisan manner, pushed back against the governor’s planned cuts to our local school districts and increased foundation aid funding by $934.5 million—directly assisting our students, teachers and property taxpayers. Additionally, library construction funding was increased to $44 million, which was $10 million more than the governor proposed and $10 million more than last year. This was a priority issue for me and our community, and I’d like to thank everyone in the district who took this time to sign my petition on this important issue—your voices were heard!

A few other positive steps in this year’s budget include a new $50 million investment in the Erie Canal’s infrastructure, and Aid and Incentives for Municipalities funding was increased for the first time in over 15 years, which results in more than $300,000 in additional funding for the City of Lockport.

Though the Consolidated Local Street and Highway Improvement Program (CHIPS) funding (used by municipalities for local roads, bridges and culverts) was restored from the governor’s proposed cut, funding remained flat while the cost of materials has risen by nearly 60% in the past three years. This will impact our local highway departments. Also, BRIDGE NY, Extreme Winter Recovery and the Pave Our Potholes Programs also remained flat. After listening to our local highway superintendents, the Assembly Minority Conference requested an additional $200 million for CHIPS, but the Majorities and governor chose to reject any increase in this important infrastructure investment. 

Please know that two other budget concerns of mine were the Majority’s failure to include an increase to the volunteer firefighters’ earned income tax credit of $200, which has remained flat for decades, and that $25 million for facility and equipment upgrades for our volunteer fire departments was simply reappropriated in from last year’s budget. Therefore, an additional $25 million has not been dedicated to this important initiative, and I consider this a cut to the great need for new roofs, fire apparatus and air tanks as last year’s funding has not been distributed yet. 

These are essential services that benefit everyone, and we deserved more from the governor and the downstate-driven Majorities and New York City officials—yet, they chose instead to hand out debit cards, free hotel rooms and free cell phones to illegal migrants to the tune of $2.4 billion.

Finally, let’s end this budget update on a positive note, I was also pleased the governor and Majorities, in a bipartisan manner, did invest in a key priority of mine for several years now to help prevent childhood drowning by increasing access to swimming lessons. After learning that drowning is the number one cause of death in small children and recognizing that more than 1,000 New Yorkers died due to drowning in the past decade, I knew something on this issue had to be done. After introducing legislation and working with my colleague, Assemblywoman Stacey Pheffer Amato, a commission was established to bring attention to this issue, and the budget devotes $150 million to the NY SWIMS program to enhance and expand swimming lesson opportunities for kids all across our state, investments in our swimming pools and the recruitment and retention of lifeguards. This is an example of our government at its best: working together.

While I am proud of the successes outlined herein, it is a drop in the bucket when it comes to the overall $237 billion in state spending and the disproportionate percentages provided to programs and funding downstate. Western New Yorkers deserve more for their investment, and these are the reasons why I voted no, despite some worthwhile and important bipartisan accomplishments.