John Toscano. Queens Gazette. 4/5/2006.

Queens lawmakers in Albany serving in both houses and affiliated with both parties were solidly on board with their respective leaders in voting for the bipartisan budget fashioned by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno.

Here's a sampling of comments offered after the budget passed on Friday.

Assembly member Catherine Nolan (D-Ridgewood), who guided the $11.2 billion Bloomberg school construction appropriation through as Education Committee chairperson, said: "This was a big, big, big win for New York City's school kids. It will go a long way toward reducing overcrowding in the classroom. The legislature's budget also includes a tax credit for families with children from four to 17 years old. A tax credit of $330 per school-age child will enable families to better provide for their children. The legislature did its part, now the governor needs to do his."

Deputy Speaker Ivan Lafayette (D-Jackson Heights), said: "Finally after months of discussions between both houses of the legislature and the New York State and City Departments of Education, it was realized how many more billions of dollars New York City has available with the new building formula that was put into place last year."

Lafayette estimates that with this new formula now in place and accepted, an additional $4.5 billion is available in capital funds for New York City schools. This is in addition to the existing capital program that New York City is accustomed to receive. (In the 2005-2006 state budget, Lafayette spearheaded a change in the building aid formula that made possible a 62 percent share of the cost of a new school construction project in New York City payable by New York state, instead of 18 percent under the old formula.)

With the city finally realizing how much more capital money is available to them, Lafayette said he hopes they will immediately apply for funding under the retroactive clause in the formula and expedite the acquisition of property to construct new schools at a much quicker pace to help relieve the tremendous overcrowding New York City schools are now experiencing.

Assembly member Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria), said: "With this budget, the state Assembly's longtime effort to provide needed funds for New York City schools takes

A major step forward. Hopefully, crumbling schools and overcrowded classrooms are on the road to extinction and our children will benefit from improved facilities. Now we must stay hard at work to ensure that operational funds are also increased to provide a sound, basic education for all our kids."

Gianaris noted that fellow Queens Assembly member Catherine Nolan deserves thanks for her efforts in her new position as chair of the Assembly Education Committee.

Assembly member Jimmy Meng (D-Flushing), said: many of his Flushing constituents had contacted his office regarding their concern about potential cuts that would not allow P.S. 244 to be built and would therefore result in a loss of 400 seats.

Meng stated, "I am very pleased that the Assembly and the senate have agreed to give the much-needed $6.5 billion for capital construction. Now that we in the Assembly have come through in fighting for money for New York City schools, I implore and expect Governor [George] Pataki to sign this agreement into law. Here in Flushing, we excitedly anticipate the construction of P.S. 244, our much needed school in Flushing, and most importantly, how it will improve the lives of our younger citizens."

State Senator George Onorato (D-Astoria) made the following statement about the $112.4 billon state budget plan currently being passed by the state senate and Assembly. "The state budget recently agreed to by the senate and Assembly improves upon the governor's original proposal in a variety of important ways.

"The legislative spending plan ensures that college students will not face tuition hikes or reductions in tuition assistance, and makes historic investments in New York City public school construction. It rejects harmful cuts to our health care system, and will help to ensure improved access to hospital care for lower-income New Yorkers. On top of this, the senate and Assembly budget will provide significant tax relief to those who need it most by ending the state sales tax on clothing and footwear purchases up to $110, implementing a new tax credit for families with school-age children, and providing additional savings under the STAR program.

"But as with every state budget, there are disappointments. While I am pleased that the legislative budget addresses multi-year school construction needs in the city and throughout the state, it still falls short of providing adequate operating aid. I am hopeful that this issue will be revised in the future."

State Senator Frank Padavan (R-C- Bellerose), said: "The budget agreed upon by the legislature this week is good for New York and great for New York City. This year we were fortunate enough to be working with a surplus and as a legislature we've put together a budget that lowers taxes and increases state aid. This is unprecedented and I don't think it could have worked out any better for the residents of this great city or the state of New York.

"The agreement reached by the state senate and Assembly would send more than

1.3 billion to New York schools and half of that amount is going to New York City under the legislature's plan. This is a record increase for the city of New York, an increase that should help put our parents and children at ease. This is the funding that our schools need now and it also sets up continued additional support in the years to come." Padavan added.

Out of $2.6 billion in new school construction funds, $1.8 billion would go directly to city school districts. In addition to the $1.8 billion, the city has also been authorized to bond an additional $4.7 billion which will complete the state's commitment to the city's 5-year plan. Padavan noted, "This is historic for New York City, people around the state are finally beginning to realize that our schools have been neglected and now those key players are willing to allocate funding to schools in a manner that is fair and allows all of New York's children equal access to an education that will properly prepare them for their future."

This budget also includes $375 million in aid for high needs districts throughout the state, with at least 60 percent going to New York City. Funds will be increased for necessary programs such as universal Pre-K, high tax aid, teacher support aid, teacher resource and computer centers and the Teacher Mentor Intern program.

Padavan, elated at the timeliness and thoroughness of this budget agreement, said, "This budget is a win for our children. Too often, politics gets in the why of what is really important, but this time we came up with a plan that protects our taxpayers and allows our children to receive all the educational services they require and need. I think money spent on our children and their education is the safest and most reliable form of investment."

State Senator Serphin Maltese (R-C-Middle Village): "The budget agreed on by the legislature represents a tremendous victory for the schools, students, teachers and families of New York City. The budget agreement includes significant increases in funding to improve New York City schools and ensure that our students receive a sound basic education in state-of-the-art schools

"I appreciate the leadership of Senator Bruno to ensure that the budget authorizes $11.2 billion over five years for new school construction, exceeding the amounts proposed in related court decisions. The state will provide $6.5 billion, while the city will contribute the remaining $4.7 billion.

"New funding this year in the amount of $1.8 billion will pay for the first year of Mayor [Michael] Bloomberg's multi-year school construction plan which includes the 21 school projects currently on hold. Mayor Bloomberg and my New York City Senate Majority colleagues, Senator [John] Marchi, Senator Padavan and Senator [Martin] Golden, share my commitment to students and teachers in New York City, and I thank them for their strong advocacy throughout this budget process.

"In addition, we have secured an agreement to include a state commitment to pay the debt service on the $1.8 billion, protecting our New York City taxpayers.

"The school construction funding that we have assisted in securing meets a critical portion of the state's obligation arising from the Campaign for Fiscal Equity [CFE] lawsuit, and when coupled with the additional increases in operating aid, will help ensure that every child in New York City has the opportunity to achieve a world class education from excellent teachers in safe, modern schools."

State Senator John Sabini (D-Jackson Heights): "There's not enough operating dollars in the budget for our schools. We're still nowhere near where we need to be. Also, we're taking on an extensive amount of debt. It will fall on the shoulders of young New Yorkers in the future [to pay it off]."

Council member John Liu (D-Flushing), a member of the Education Committee, stated in response to questions regarding the recent agreement by state officials to authorize $11.2 billion in capital funds for New York school construction, declared: "This agreement helps our school kids and we thank our state leaders for doing the right thing. Students in my district and around the city are packed like sardines. With the $1.8 billion available for this year as well as the billions more slated for future years, we will finally be able to build the capacity we need.

This funding agreement will put back on track the building of P.S. 244 in Flushing. It remains a top priority to ensure the completion of this much-needed school. Furthermore, more schools in the Flushing area will be needed to be put on the drawing board. With the funding now available, the quick identification and acquisition of sites will be critical."