January 20, 2022

Lt. Gov. lobbies for budget plan at SUNY

Cuomo proposal first step in annual spending plan process

Colin Spencer/staff reporter

Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul outlines points in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s budget proposal Wednesday at SUNY Cortland. Hochul said funding through the state’s Downtown Revitalization Initiative is helping bring optimism to Cortland.

Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul said Wednesday the revitalization of downtown Cortland is bringing about a new spirit of optimism for the city and helping to keep young residents from leaving.

“When I was growing up, the American dream was to leave downtown and get out to the suburbs, right?” she said. “It’s fantastic to see that there’s this synergy created with young people and also the old people who pretend they’re young …”

Hochul spoke at SUNY Cortland’s Brockway Hall on the state’s $178 billion proposed budget for fiscal year 2021, highlighting:

  • A five-year, $33 billion plan to combat climate change.
  • $275 billion to spend on infrastructure.
  • Legalizing cannabis for people 21 or older.
  • Addressing new bail reform laws.
  • Adding domestic terrorism laws.

Hochul also covered other areas of the budget, including working to lower prescription drug costs, banning the making of weapons with 3D printers and requiring the disclosure of tax returns for public officials with salaries of $100,000 or more.

Hochul said revitalizing downtowns like Cortland’s through the $10 million Downtown Revitalization Initiative is key to maintaining the health of the community through young people.

“If you can get young people who are educated, who want to stay, or as we continue to attract businesses from elsewhere, that’s a good sense of optimism that people need in these areas,” she said.

She also said the state has invested $6 billion in Central New York through the initiative and Regional Economic Development Councils.

“There’s no going backwards,” Hochul said. “We’ve made these investments and we’re not going anywhere.”

Jo Schaffer, a union representative for SUNY Cortland, said that while she agreed with the budget presentation overall, she thought that Excelsior Scholarship program works against both schools and students by not providing enough funding.

The scholarship program allows for state residents to attend a SUNY or CUNY school tuition free based upon adjusted gross family income, but it’s a funding source of last resort, and doesn’t fund other college costs beyond tuition.

The scholarship doesn’t “meet the basic tuition cost of college” she said. “A student has a right to expect the best education possibilities, but the money is not there to make those things happen.”

Schaffer also hoped Hochul would address higher education beyond the Excelsior Scholarship program, in which under the proposed budget, eligibility would expand for adjusted gross family income from $125,000 to $150,000.

Schaffer also disagreed with Hochul’s views on the revitalization of downtown Cortland.

“Downtown is still a very sad state of affairs,” she said. “I’ve yet to see the full impact of the $10 million.”

SUNY Cortland senior Alliyah Dookie said the presentation reinforced her ideas of what New York should stand for.

“I really believe that the environment is our No. 1 issue because without the planet, where would we be?” she said.

Part of the administration’s plan to tackle climate change would come through the Restore Mother Nature Act, which would in part work to restore wetlands and promise clean air and water near coastal areas, Hochul said.

Dookie met with Hochul after the presentation and asked Hochul how the administration will address gentrification, especially in Dookie’s home of New York.

“My grandma lives in Brooklyn, which is a very gentrified neighborhood and it (gentrification) has displaced many people of color,” Dookie said.

Dookie said Hochul told her the administration is working on housing projects to address gentrification, but Hochul didn’t have time to give details.