2017 legislative session begins, ends atypically

by Julie M. Marlette

On Board Online • July 3, 2017

By Julie M. Marlette
Director of Governmental Relations

The 2017 legislative session ended the way it began - with some confusion, mutterings of disbelief and a few headshakes.

The oddness began in January, when Gov. Andrew Cuomo skipped the traditional State of the State address in Albany. Instead, he announced 35 policy proposals over a nine-day tour of the state. And, surprisingly, none of those proposals focused squarely on K-12 education, which has been a marquee issue for Cuomo in the past as well as the biggest area of expenditure in the state budget.

In another oddity, there was no formal announcement of the governor's proposed budget, called the executive budget. Instead, there was a hastily arranged press event at the executive mansion that was televised, followed by the release of the bills. In those bills was a proposal that would have repealed the current statutory foundation aid formula - a major shift that was not even hinted at in any of the 35 proposals announced in the days leading up to the release.

Then there was the budget itself. It was passed nine days late, after an extender had been adopted that implemented many of the capital proposals in the executive budget. The final budget included a $700 million increase in foundation aid, and hardly any education policy proposals. Again, this was a deviation from the recent past.

All was just a prelude to a rather unconventional "end of session" week in the state capital. Shortly after the adoption of the budget, Gov. Cuomo stated that he felt his goals for the year had been accomplished in the budget. The scheduled end of session came, and both houses adjourned and left town.

"It was like being at a party when suddenly they stop the music and turn on all the lights," said NYSSBA Executive Director Timothy G. Kremer.

Of particular concern to NYSSBA was that the Legislature's departure occurred before any final action was taken to renew mayoral control of the New York City school district.

However, a week after the session ended, Gov. Cuomo issued a proclamation calling for an extraordinary session, to address mayoral control and "other topics." At the time On Board went to press, no deal had been announced and no bill or bills had gone to print.

During the session,, NYSSBA was able to accomplish some key legislative priorities, help advance some local legislation, and help block some legislation that would have been problematic for our districts. For instance, two bills making important clarifications to the implementation of the tax cap were approved by both houses of the Legislature. The first, S.4283 (Murphy)/A.5965 (Galef), would make a technical adjustment to the property tax cap by clarifying that a school district's costs related to BOCES capital be treated in the same manner as the district's own capital costs, which are excluded from the tax cap calculation. Such an adjustment would remove the disincentive for school districts to invest in updating and expanding BOCES facilities.

The second, S.2122-A (O'Mara)/A.1841-A (Morelle), would make a similar technical adjustment to the property tax cap by clarifying that properties under payment-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILOT) agreements are to be included in a district's tax base growth factor as part of the tax cap calculation.

The legislation is similar to language first enacted in 2015, which permitted the state Department of Taxation and Finance to make these adjustments administratively. The new legislation would remove the permissive nature of the 2015 version and require the adjustment to be made.

A number of other NYSSBA supported bills passed both houses, and await action by the governor, including:

S.6599 (Larkin)/A.881-A (Gunther). This bill would authorize school boards to adopt a resolution that would allow voters within the district to decide if they want to create voting wards for boards of education.

S.5719 (Jacobs)/A.7125 (Simotas). This bill would require state agencies, including the Board of Regents, to include an assessment of the minimum amount of time necessary for local governments and school districts to be compliant with regulations they are developing. The bill would also require state agencies to actively solicit input from local governments and school districts during the regulatory and rulemaking process.

S.4723-A (Carlucci)/A.4587-A (Jaffee). This bill would authorize school districts to collect their own taxes without consent of the town. Current law allows the town to collect the taxes on behalf of school districts without school district consent.

S.2274 (Breslin)/A.1377 (McDonald). This bill would authorize the Cohoes and Watervliet city school districts to require kindergarten attendance.

S.3930-A (Breslin)/A.3926-A (Fahy). This bill would allow the Albany city school district to hold its school board elections on the third Tuesday in May.

S.6526 (Carlucci)/A.8095 (Jaffee). This legislation would permit the commissioner of education to change the name of the Ramapo Central School District to the Suffern Central School District.

NYSSBA also worked hard to ensure that bills that would be detrimental to the membership were either amended or not approved by both houses. Some of the bills NYSSBA helped to stop from enactment include:

S.5778-A (Alcantara)/A.7601-A (Abbate). This bill would have established a number of guidelines overseeing the relationship between public sector unions and their members. In addition, this bill would have required that all public employers allow new and newly promoted transferred employees to meet with a union representative during work hours unless otherwise governed in a collective bargaining agreement. NYSSBA sought amendments to ensure that such meetings could only take place in a manner that resulted in no cost to the district. This bill passed the Assembly only.

S.959 (Croci)/A.6252 (Ramos). This bill would have expanded the alternative veterans property tax exemption to include all active duty service members at the discretion of the school district. NYSSBA requested the bill be amended to include state reimbursement for districts that offered the exemption. This bill passed the Senate only.

S.1665 (Golden)/A.3416 (Cymbrowitz). This bill would have expanded eligibility for the property tax exemption available to homeowners who make improvements to their house in order to provide living arrangements for disabled and/or senior relatives, at the discretion of the school district. NYSSBA requested the bill be amended to include state reimbursement for districts that offer the exemption. This bill passed the Senate only.

A complete round up of legislative action in 2017 is available at: https://goo.gl/AY1HCX .

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