ALBANY — The state’s largest teachers union is suing Gov. Cuomo over funds withheld from school districts across New York and claims his spending power is unconstitutional.
The suit, filed Wednesday in Albany Supreme Court, argues that the state is illegally withholding $5.2 billion in school aid and that the governor has no constitutional authority to cut the budget despite sweeping powers granted to him by the Legislature amid the pandemic.
“Time is up,” New York State United Teachers president Andy Pallotta said. “With the loss of state funding driving cuts at the local level in districts around the state, we can’t just keep waiting for action at the federal level to fund our schools.”
Lawmakers gave Cuomo broad power to amend and cut the budget as he sees fit throughout the year back in April at the height of the coronavirus outbreak in the state.
Since then, the state has held back 20% of local aid, including money for schools, as the governor continues his crusade to convince Congress to release billions in aid for struggling states.
With New York facing a ballooning budget gap in the billions, Cuomo has warned that without more help from Washington the state will be forced to make the 20% cuts permanent.
Fiscal watchdogs say there are steps the state can take to avoid such devastating cuts, such as scaling back capital and economic development spending and delay middle-class tax cuts planned for next year.
“First and foremost, the state should target any reductions to school districts best able to absorb the cuts,” said Citizen Budget Commission’s Dave Friedfel. “Second, the state also plans to spend $4 billion in cash to fund its capital spending this year, most of that spending could be funded with debt and that cash could be used to avoid draconian cuts. The state can also curtail capital spending overall, especially economic development spending.”
NYSUT wants the court to restore any money that was held back by Cuomo over the past few months and is asking for an injunction barring the governor from any future reductions unless explicitly approved by the Legislature, which is meant to have authority over the process.
Freeman Klopott, a spokesman for the budget division, called the suit “frivolous” and “uninformed,” noted the projected revenue loss the state faces over the next four years and said the state will still make scheduled aid payments later this month.
“There has been no 20% cut to school aid even as we’ve waited six months for the Federal government to deliver the resources the State needs to offset a $62 billion, four-year revenue loss,” he said. “In fact, the State has paid nearly 100% of funds to school districts.
“NYSUT should stop with the nonsense and lies, and focus on Washington and the Federal funding we need, not distract attention,” he added.
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