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Tax breaks for donors to private schools are out of state budget mix

ALBANY – A plan promoted by the Catholic Church to give large state tax breaks to donors to private schools has died in last-minute budget talks, lawmakers said Thursday night, as has a push by charter schools to get the state to reimburse them for school infrastructure improvements.

Negotiators planned to pull another all-nighter to try to get a final deal today so lawmakers can pass the budget Monday – a day before the start of the state’s 2014-15 fiscal year.

The large tax break program for donors who give to nonprofit groups that, in turn, give to private schools was a top priority for the Catholic Church. The church’s leaders have said the plan would have helped reduce the need to close as many schools as dioceses statewide have been doing in recent years.

Instead, lawmakers, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the final budget deal will increase an existing funding amount that goes to Catholic schools for state-mandated services for which they get reimbursed, such as attendance services and scoring of state tests administered by the private schools.

But sources say that the state is behind by at least $200 million in paying for those mandated services over the last 10 years and that the amount being discussed for new aid this year will not come close to making up the amount owed.

Officials involved in the talks said the budget also will permit private schools to take part in a massive borrowing proposed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, whose plan called for a $2 billion bond act – to be considered by voters this November – for public schools to use on everything from new computers to classroom renovations.

Negotiators said a final bond act amount was still being discussed late Thursday but is expected to top $2 billion.

The overall figure for state aid to education will grow by $1.1 billion, up from the $800 million Cuomo proposed, to a total of $22 billion.

The increase will offer some relief to both big city and suburban districts. It would use a funding formula that especially helps districts such as Buffalo and eliminates a 2008 mandate that took state school aid money and steered it back to help the state balance its own books, a development that hit suburban districts hard.

District-by-district funding allotments will not be made public until at least Sunday night.

Beyond the $1.1 billion increase for schools over the figure for the fiscal year now ending, lawmakers say they will add $340 million for creation of all-day prekindergarten programs. However, $300 million of that will be directed solely to New York City, sources said.

Lawmakers say the money going to New York City will be offset by a two-year, $340 million property tax rebate program that will benefit upstate and Long Island communities. The plan, though, is watered down from one proposed by Cuomo, who sought to ban tax breaks to residents in communities that don’t come up with specific cost savings; lawmakers say the final plan will allow a community’s residents to get the tax breaks if their local taxing authority comes up with a savings plan, whether or not it is actually enacted.

Charter schools also are in line for more state funding. In return, they must agree to give State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli authority to audit their finances.

A Cuomo plan to give special attention to upstate manufacturers through a tax break will be expanded statewide, lawmakers said, and the State University of New York will get an increase in operating aid instead of the freeze proposed by Cuomo.

Community colleges also will get more money than what the governor proposed.

Budget negotiators were taking things down to the wire. There were talks all day Thursday on whether campaign finance and ethics rules will be strengthened, and lawmakers were trying to put an end to Cuomo’s Moreland Commission that has been investigating the outside business dealings of state lawmakers.

Lawmakers and the Cuomo administration believe that an overall deal will be announced sometime today, though any such announcement will come before negotiators have settled on a number of details, not the least of which is how much state aid individual schools will get, which helps determine property tax rates.

Other matters put into the obituary column, at least for now, include a plan to give the children of undocumented immigrants state financial help with their college tuition bills.

Asked Thursday whether he could say what issues had been resolved, Senate co-leader Dean G. Skelos, R-Rockville Centre, said, “Not really. It’s bigger than a breadbox.”