As an assemblyman for the past 12 years, I have seen how tough a place Albany can be. Our state has one of the most complicated legislatures representing the most diverse constituencies in the nation. Despite these challenges, I fought for a budget that will benefit all Long Islanders. It invests in education, middle class tax relief, combating the heroin and opioid epidemic that has destroyed families, protects our environment, stimulates economic development and helps our senior population. In all my years in Albany, this is one of the most progressive budgets I have ever voted for and it has something for everyone.
Education is the great equalizer in our society. This budget provides $25.7 billion in education aid, which represents a $1 billion increase from the last fiscal year. We have also increased foundation aid by $700 million and Community Schools Aid by $50 million. Additionally, we have provided funding for pre-k, afterschool programs, AP test assistance, schools for the blind and deaf, adult literacy education and so much more.
Long Island’s economy is dependent on ensuring our residents and businesses have access to a healthy water infrastructure. I am proud to have voted for $2.5 billion to ensure our drinking water is safe. This includes updating our water mains and sewers, as well as acquiring lands where water is sourced to keep it from being polluted. I spoke on the floor of the assembly in support of $75 million for homeowners with aging septic tanks to convert to local sewer systems. This is vital as Long Island has over half-a-million homes that are susceptible to nitrate infiltration, which can have devastating effects on our water quality.
Combating Heroin and Opioid Addiction
So many of our children have gained access to these dangerous drugs, which have resulted in families being torn apart and death for those addicted. Therefore, it is essential that our state budget provides accessible treatment options for everyone regardless of who they are and where they live. I was proud to increase treatment funding by $43 million for a total of $213 million.
I have always made it a priority to make sure our seniors can continue to live on Long Island despite rising health care costs and property taxes. I was happy to support a $13.5 million allotment for long-term care initiatives including the restoration of $10 million to preserve spousal refusal, ensuring couples do not lose their life savings in the event a spouse becomes ill and needs nursing home care. There is also an expansion of consumer protections including access to a pre-foreclosure settlement conference and homeowners with reverse mortgages to help more seniors stay in their homes and protect their investments.
Unfortunately, our public transportation systems have fallen victim to infrastructure problems that have led to massive delays or complete shutdowns. Cutting services like the NICE bus system hurts working families on Long Island and we must continue to find ways to reverse the recent trends of privatization and service cuts. I was able to secure an additional $65 million for renovations to the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR). There is also $20 million for non-MTA capital projects and $10 million in non-MTA transit system operating assistance.
The budget also includes support of our island’s agriculture programs, increasing access to our legal system, expanding ride sharing services, providing long-needed raises for direct care workers and protecting Medicaid.
I became an Assemblyman to fight for our families and this budget will do just that. I am honored not only to serve the constituents of the 13th Assembly District, but all Long Islanders. I look forward to sharing more ideas and discussing important issues for our island with you once a month in these pages.
Assemblyman Charles Lavine represents the communities of Glen Cove, Sea Cliff, Roslyn, East Hills, Lattingtown, Bayville, Plainview, Cove Neck, Woodbury, Jericho, New Cassel and Westbury in the New York State Assembly. Follow him on Twitter: @Charles_Lavine