NY Senate GOP Distributes $10M More to Schools

In one of the most heated floor fights in recent years in the sharply partisan chamber, Senate Democrats called the unexpected extra school aid nothing more than pork-barrel spending

By Michael Gormley
|  Tuesday, May 1, 2012  |  Updated 10:01 PM EDT
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NY Senate GOP Distributes $10M More to Schools

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The state Senate's Republican majority provided almost $10 million more in school aid Tuesday night, but only to school districts represented by Republican senators this election year.

In one of the most heated floor fights in recent years in the sharply partisan chamber, Senate Democrats called the unexpected extra school aid nothing more than pork-barrel spending, which was supposed to be eliminated in the budget adopted in March. The debate also ignited an upstate versus downstate fight in the chamber where Republicans have a 32-30 majority.

"So for us there's nothing and we have to go back to our district and say, 'You cannot even buy a smart board?" said Sen. Ruben Diaz, a Bronx Democrat representing some of the state's poorest schools. "What's going on here? ... Because you say, 'We are in power now.' God Bless you. Enjoy your power."

Sen. John DeFrancisco, an Onondaga County Republican, noted Democrats also sent so-called bullet aid only to schools represented by Democrats when Democrats held the Senate majority form 2008-2010. DeFrancisco said the Assembly's Democratic majority also had almost $10 million in the same funding this year, but chose to use it for teacher training centers in New York City, not for bullet aid to schools represented by Democrats.

Asked by Diaz if he felt any remorse for the action, DeFrancisco said: "I feel as much remorse now as you did when you sent all your discretionary funds to your districts."

"Believe me," DeFrancisco told Democratic Sen. Liz Krueger of Manhattan, "there was never any thought of providing money to the Democrat districts."

The bullet aid ranges from $5,000 to the North Greenbush schools in Rensselaer County to $425,000 for the Lockport schools and $275,000 in Niagara Falls in Western New York.

Many of the more than 200 school districts received typical increases of $50,000. The state has more than 700 districts. The biggest are New York City, Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and Yonkers, all of which are represented by Democrats and none of which received bullet aid under the Republican proposal.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Michael Bloomberg, each closely allied with the Senate's Republican majority, had no immediate comment. The $10 million bullet aid would be a fraction of the state's more than $20 billion in annual school aid.

School aid is usually the most contentious political issue in legislative elections. Traditional state school aid was increased $800 million, or about 4 percent, in the 2010-13 budget adopted in March. Larger shares of that aid goes to high-needs school districts including New York City, Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and Yonkers.

The heated debate included parliamentary flourishes and jockeying and the slamming of the massive gavel by Sen. Joseph Griffo of Oneida County who presided over the Senate at the time.

"It's a sad day for the New York state Senate ... in the dead of night," said Sen. Neil Breslin, an Albany County Democrat. "It's shameful ... not one Democratic school district? Please!"

The issue was the last on the day's agenda, but was debated and voted on before 8 p.m. It passed 47-11 in the 62-seat chamber with several absences.

In the end, several Democrats supported the measure because they said they didn't want to hurt any school, even if it wasn't their own.

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