State budget provokes questions from county leaders

JOHNSTOWN — Fulton County officials this week responded to the newly enacted 2017-18 state budget, questioning the new tuition-free college initiative.

During conclusion of the Fulton County Board of Supervisors’ meeting Monday at the County Office Building, county officials spoke up about the spending plan adopted over the weekend by the state Legislature.

Johnstown 3rd Ward Supervisor Jack Callery asked what effect the “free education” part of the budget will have on Fulton-Montgomery Community College’s master plan.

“I don’t oppose it,” Callery said. “I just don’t think it was well thought-out.”

The program to provide free tuition for students at New York state’s public colleges and universities was passed on Friday by the state Legislature.

County Administrative Officer Jon Stead said he has minimal knowledge of the initiative, although he believes there will be some “cost shiftings.” He said it will be phased in over three years and available for families that make $100,000 or less, if they choose a state college.

“It’s a pretty big [student] population,” Stead said.

The Excelsior Scholarship, as the program is called, is expected to cut the cost of a degree from a four-year State University of New York college by about $26,000 for an eligible family making $100,000 a year. To qualify, students must attend school full time and be on track to graduate within two or four years, depending on the degree they are seeking

After graduation, scholarship recipients must live and work in New York state for as many years as they received a tuition award. If they break that commitment, the tuition grant becomes a loan that must be repaid.

In another budget area, Stead noted a proposal from Gov. Andrew Cuomo to provide $4.2 million to counties to cover district attorney salary increases didn’t pass. He said that means counties will “eat” the extra $65,000 cost up to a planned $190,000 salary for each of New York’s district attorneys.

In the social services area, Stead said the new state budget cost shifts a “huge portion” of the Foster Care Program administration to counties, with no reimbursement.

But he said the budget plans to provide more CHIPs, or Consolidated Highway Improvement Program funding, to localities next budget year.

Gloversville 2nd Ward Supervisor Frank Lauria Jr. said that U.S. Rep. John Faso, R-Kinderhook, who represents part of Montgomery County, should have pressed the federal government to take over Medicaid. During the recent debate over repealing “Obamacare,” an amendment co-sponsored by Faso would have forced New York state to take over all of the cost of its Medicaid program.

Stead said the federal takeover alluded to by Lauria was tried and failed 10 years ago.

In another state matter, Gloversville 4th Ward Supervisor Charles Potter, a member of the board’s Public Safety Committee, said he will request an agenda item at the committee’s next meeting. He wants to look into possible board support to repeal the state’s SAFE Act gun regulation law. The committee meets at 10 a.m. April 24 at the County Office Building.

The SAFE Act requires universal background checks on gun purchases, increases penalties for people who use illegal guns, mandates life in prison without parole for anyone who murders a first responder, and imposes an assault weapons ban.

Michael Anich covers Johnstown and Fulton County news. He can be reached at [email protected]

By Chad Fleck

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