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Flushing pols weigh impact of state budget cuts

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Flushing’s representatives in the state Legislature returned home from Albany last week for a rare break in the tense negotiations over the state’s severe budget crisis and took some time to voice their views on the contentious issue.

State Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Whitestone) spoke at the Queensboro Hill Neighborhood Association’s meeting March 31 about the measures she believes the state should take to close the $9 billion gap in the state’s more than $130 billion budget.

“We can cut services, raise taxes or borrow. There’s really nothing else we can do,” she said. “Senate Democrats, we have pretty much decided we’re not going to raise taxes. ... We have agreed with the Assembly to about $3 billion in cuts. But the cuts are going to be devastating.”

Those cuts will come in large part from key programs such as education and health care, but Stavisky said that is almost inevitable as a majority of the state budget is allocated to those areas.

The state Legislature approved an extender last week, meaning the state will have two more weeks to finish the budget, but certain things such as legislators’ salaries and certain grants will go unpaid.

The Legislature is also considering a proposal by Lt. Gov. Richard Ravitch to borrow $2 billion a year for three years. Stavisky said the plan is popular in the Assembly, but Senate Democrats “are not happy about doing that.”

State Assemblywoman Grace Meng (D-Flushing) spoke about the budget last Thursday at the Flushing Chamber of Commerce’s meeting. She said the budget process has been difficult and that there will have to be painful cuts in order for the state to find a way to close the gap.

But she wants to ensure certain programs are not cut or slashed.

“My top priority is really senior citizens. The governor’s budget would cut $25 million from senior centers,” she said. “Another proposal I oppose is about libraries. ... To cut down hours on libraries would be severely detrimental to our community in these tough times.”

Meng said there continues to be ways to increase revenues the state should look into.

“Right now we don’t collect taxes on cigarettes sold on Indian reservations and I don’t understand why we can’t do that,” she said.

Stavisky also has some creative ways to raise more funding without raising taxes. As chairwoman of the Senate Higher Education Committee, she suggested the state look at changes to the way the CUNY and SUNY systems are run.

She said the systems’ schools charge out-of-state students $12,000 in annual tuition, while the national average for out-of-state students at public universities is $25,000. She also supports allowing the big research universities to raise tuition for graduate studies and letting them keep the money on-campus to improve the educations they provide.

Reach reporter Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at csheets@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.

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