April 1st this year will mean more than just an excuse to prank your friends (at least for us living in New York). The day is also the current deadline for New York State to finalize its 2017 budget.
With a number of policy and financial changes on the budget list, here are 3 of the big budget items currently being decided over that can influence our way of life in upstate New York.
1. Tuition Free State College
With the blessings of Bernie Sanders, Gov. Cuomo is looking to push his state wide tuition-free degree program and make it a reality.
The program is titled “The Excelsior Scholarship” and if passed will be the first program of its kind in the nation. Being proposed as a 3 year roll out plan to quell the rising rate of student debt in the country, it would allow families with a household income of $100,000 or less to qualify in the first year (this coming fall) and families with a household income of $125,000 or less to qualify by 2019. The program will fall under the basic umbrella requirements that most state aid programs follow like residency/enrollment requirements and will not cover student boarding costs (so it’s “free* tuition” but still pretty cool).
The plan is projected to cover up to almost 1 million families and increase incentive for on time degree program completion as the scholarship will run out after the given degree program’s projected rate of completion. This usually means 2 to 4 years so you won’t be seeing any state funded super seniors on campuses anytime soon.
However, some opposition to the program exists, favoring the proposed increase in budget and flexibility to current state aid programs like TAP and EOP alone. If the current budget passes, it would mean a lot more families across the state could afford to send someone to college and get a higher education without breaking the bank.
2. Uber and Lyft in upstate NY
We’ve already talked about the impact of Uber and Lyft’s upstate NY presence in our Hot Take article a few weeks back and our fake Uber ride video with Vic Christopher which was plastered over the local news. It’s impact on upstate NY would be huge is an understatement. If the proposed budget is passed as is, it would allow ride-hailing for all of New York State where currently, it is only legal in NYC.
This would mean residents who live in cities like Buffalo, Syracuse, Rochester and the capital region would have the option to use, or work for, one of the popular ride sharing apps. This proposal is currently seeing last minute call to action by Uber and Lyft alike with local ad spots calling for support as well as lobbying of local lawmakers. Gov. Cuomo and the state senate are currently all for this change while the state assembly would much rather see the decision on the issue knocked down to the local legislation on a city by city basis.
Which ever way it splits, the decision will definitely be making waves for us living in in upstate New York so brace yourselves!
3. The Empire State Trail
Yet another one of gov. Cuomo’s big proposals in this year’s budget, The Empire State Trail looks to allocate funds to finishing (and connecting) the Hudson River Valley Greenway and the Erie Canalway biking/hiking trails in NY state.
This multi-year project would be like the state hiking trail equivalent to Eisenhower’s construction of the interstate highway system, where New York would see every major part of the state connected by scenic and historical biking and hiking trails. The proposal suggests a 3 three phase roll out plan (a trend for Cuomo I guess) with each phase seeing the completion of 350 mile hiking trails and connecting them with the pre existing trails as well as crossing with the Appalachian trail, one of New York’s biggest tourist attractions.
The completion of the trail will also include a revamped website and directory as well as a fully functional Empire State Trail app that visitors can use to get the most out of their experience. The Governor claims that this project, as a product of it’s huge tourist appeal, expects the trail to generate on average $1.5 million to $5 million annually and create job growth in the state wide surrounding communities. However, While Cuomo is looking to receive $200 million for the project, the senate does not see the plan as viable and the Assembly is only looking to allocate 10% of what Cuomo is asking.
This plan could drive a lot of tourism for New York state but on the other hand would mean depriving other programs of possible funding. You can read about the trail plan in its entirety on its offical page.
The New York State Senate page has an article written by Sen. Thomas F. O’Mara covering the budget’s details and the Times Union has an article written by State Assemblyman John T. McDonald III as well if your interested. If you feel strongly about any of these proposals, there is still time to make a difference in what happens with them. You can find and contact your local NY senate rep here and you can find and contact your local assemblyman here.
Call or send an email letting them know how you feel and you could be hiking or ride hailing your way to your first semester of tuition free college within the year!