The state Legislature is adding $84.7 million in new aid for Yonkers in the budget it expects to pass this week, more than half of which will be new, recurring revenue to help the city address the annual budget crises that have crippled its schools.
State Sen. Nicholas Spano, R-Yonkers, led a bipartisan coalition of assemblymen and state senators yesterday in unveiling a $60.7 million package of recurring aid that addresses the city's $100 million 2006-07 education spending gap. The state budget also will include $24 million to help kick-start a $3.1 billion redevelopment project for the city's downtown and waterfront, Spano said.
Both measures, which will require Gov. George Pataki's approval, are expected to pass as part of the Legislature's second on-time budget in two years. Spano said securing the aid was deliverance of a promise he made to parents of city schoolchildren in October 2004 to end the annual budget drama.
"Last night at around 9:30, I was literally jumping up and down on my couch in my (Albany) office," Spano said in an afternoon news conference in his Executive Boulevard district office, flanked by Republican Mayor Phil Amicone, and a bipartisan selection of the city's state delegation and City Council.
Spano said he expected to secure additional aid by the end of the week, once the Legislature sorts out formula-driven education aid and how it will spend money being allocated to high-need districts as part of an $11.2 billion increase in capital aid included in the budget to satisfy a portion of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit.
City officials anticipate getting about $10 million out of that pot, which would reduce the deficit to about $30 million. Amicone said the city would make up the difference through increasing revenues and cuts but hoped to avoid layoffs.
"We still have some work to do, and we still have some tough decisions to make," he said. "But there's much more breathing room now than there has been."
The recurring aid comes in the form of $20.7 million in increased municipal aid; a $20 million annual payment to help offset costs associated with a video lottery casino opening at Yonkers Raceway; and $20 million from a state program that supports magnet schools, Spano said.
The $24 million allocated for downtown would help the city build infrastructure associated with its redevelopment plans and open up stretches of the Saw Mill River, which currently runs underneath several city blocks. Opening the river is a concept long backed by Pataki, who pledged funds for it in his 2005 State of the State address.
The immense aid package comes after a winter in which Amicone and the City Council took a decidedly different tack in asking the state Legislature for help in addressing its growing budget deficit.
Amicone visited the Capitol almost every week this year to press the city's commitment to cutting costs and increasing revenue locally, particularly through its ambitious development plans. The council also made its annual lobbying trip Tuesday, and council President Chuck Lesnick made several trips of his own.
The approach was in marked contrast to the open hostility the city showed the state in years past. Amicone and his predecessor, John Spencer, under whom he was deputy mayor, often loudly blamed the state for underfunding the city's schools. That tactic was coupled with the practice of leaving large unfunded gaps in city budgets.
Assemblyman Richard Brodsky, D-Greenburgh, who often has engaged in bitter, public sparring matches with Amicone, praised the city for changing its tone. His mere presence alongside Spano and Amicone yesterday at the news conference spoke to the new spirit of cooperation.
"I do not think we could have reached this point if the tone of the debate had not changed," he said.
Parents, who have suffered through the uncertainty and cuts of recent years, also applauded the new spirit of cooperation.
"This year's different," said Miriam Foley, president of the Yonkers Council of PTAs. "It's a great day for the kids of Yonkers."