Photo by Morgan Frisch
Acting Commissioner of the Department of Civil Service Lola Brabham discusses Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s 2016 State of the State Budget and Address Thursday at Fulton-Montgomery Community College.
By MORGAN FRISCH
Fulton County Express
JOHNSTOWN– Uber transportation, combating heroin and protecting progressive values were only a few of the highlights community members heard Thursday at Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s 2016 State of the State Budget and Address at Fulton-Montgomery Community College.
Among the many topics Acting Commissioner of the Department of Civil Service Lola Brabham discussed, college-free tuition and raising the age of criminal responsibility seemed to spark the most discussion.
College President Dustin Swanger introduced Brabham before her talk in the large lounge of the student union building.
Brabham detailed several proposals identified in the $152.3 billion state budget. The governor’s progress with marriage equality, paid family leave and increasing the state’s minimum wage was mentioned, along with his Middle Class Recovery Act and Buy American plan. The Middle Class Child Care Tax Credit would help reduce the costs of childcare by $200,000 and the Buy American plan would require state entities to give preference to American made goods and products.
“Every New Yorker now pays a lower income rate tax today than they did the day Gov. Cuomo took office,” Brabham said. “Tax rates are down for every New Yorker and credit ratings are up all across the board.”
She said the statewide unemployment rate is down from 8.4 percent six years ago to just under five percent and that New York has the highest number of jobs in history with just under eight million private sector jobs. FAGE, she explained, is expanding to 132 new jobs.
“Here in the Mohawk Valley, the state has invested $444 million in just about 462 projects,” she said.
Brabham said Cuomo is proposing to raise the age of criminal responsibility. New York is only one of two states that treat 16 and 17 year olds as adults.
F-MCC Board of Trustees Chair Ed Jasewicz questioned the proposal.
Brabham said she thinks the proposal is aimed at individuals who are in an adult prison, but not legally considered adults.
“I think this proposal is really aimed at that,” she said. “The personal security and safety of not only the individual who is incarcerated, but the environment they are incarcerated in.”
She also described Cuomo’s tuition-free college degree program, named the Excelsior Scholarship, which would eventually make state colleges and universities free for students for families earning $125,000 or less annually.
“In 2015, the average student loan debt was $29,000 that’s why the governor proposed investing
$163 million for tuition free colleges,” Brabham said. “85 percent of all families in the Mohawk Valley would qualify for tuition free college. That is a huge number.”
Gregg Roth, F-MCC’s director of information technology, asked if students could be eligible to use the program to obtain a Master’s Degree.
Brabham said she believes the proposal is just for the undergraduate.
Accounting and business associate professor Laurence K. Zuckerman described a scenario where two families living next store to each other made $125,000 and $127,000 annually.
He asked if the family earning $127,000 would receive zero eligibility.
“As the proposal is currently written, I believe that is true,” Brabham said. “But it is a great question.”
Zuckerman suggested the proposal be phased, so “the guy that works very hard and makes just a couple bucks more in factory overtime doesn’t lose a huge benefit.”
“A lot of the students are thinking we worked really hard to pay for our school and if we had known that[about the proposal], we obviously would have waited and have gotten a free ride,” he said.
Roth mentioned the status of the job market when the newly educated students begin looking for careers.
“What happens if the job market isn’t there for those people,” he asked. “I don’t want to see them go to some other state after we have given them free education. We need to be able to give them jobs.”
Brabham said Cuomo is trying to relocate people to New York and create more jobs.
“He’s intervening and saying, no, don’t go, stay in New York because it has a lot to offer,” she said.
Gloversville 2nd Ward Supervisor Frank Lauria Jr wanted Brabham to take back the message of ethics reform. He also stated his support of free education. However, he wants to see Cuomo in the community.
“I do believe and I do as a Democrat want to see this governor in Fulton County,” he said.