by Lynne Jackson
ALBANY: The Honorable Jack McEneny noted that the last time he had vegetarian lasagna was when he had the pleasure of giving John Wolcott, long-time Pine Bush advocate, an award from the NYS Legislature. He was glad to be back at the May veggie lasagna dinner at the First Presbyterian Church to speak about the happenings in the NYS Legislature.
“ Legislation,” he began, “justifies my salary.” First, Mr. McEneny described what happened to the Environmental Protection Fund (EPF). The budget originally proposed to “off-load” Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) staff operating costs onto the EPF, reducing the amount of money available for EPF programs. On-going operating expenses of DEC should come from the general fund, not the EPF. The Legislature was successful in removing the DEC operating funds from the EPF, keeping the Environmental Protection Fund intact.
Mr. McEneny discussed other environmental issues the Legislature is considering, including adding money to the superfund, brown field legislation, and waste tire management (what should be done with the 8.1 million scrap tires discarded every year).
The big issue is the schools, public schools, and higher education. The legislature put $1.4 billion back in the budget, but public funding of education is still at risk. Mr. McEneny feels that every four-year-old has a right to go to school, and worked to put back in the universal pre-K funding that the Governor had knocked out of the budget.
Currently, in the courts, is the case regarding whether or not the State of New York is obligated to provide public education beyond the eight grade. The lawsuit was initiated because of the inequities in how schools were funded. The NYS Supreme Court (lowest court in New York) said that there were inequities in school funding. Governor Pataki appealed the ruling. The Appellate Division said that there was no obligation on the part of the State to provide education beyond the 8th grade, but that the school funding formula is unequal. This decision has been appealed to the highest NYS court, the Court of Appeals.
Mr. McEneny believes that however the Court of Appeals decides the case, that we win. If the Court decides for the plaintiffs, then the State must develop a plan to provide equal funding for all public school students of all ages. However, if the plaintiffs lose, then the Court will mandate equal funding for education through eighth grade. Either way, we get equal funding of education for the initial, important years. It would hard to imagine that once equal funding for education is implemented through the eighth grade, that taxpayers would allow the legislature not to continue funding through high school.
After reviewing the current legislative session, Mr. McEneny spoke about the history of the Pine Bush. The audience asked him many questions, and kept him quite late.