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Critics Hit Gov. Paterson's Budget Cuts to Education and Legal Aid

January 8, 2009

Albany, NY — Strong words but too little funding: that's how Governor David Paterson's state of the state message is being received by education and legal aid groups across New York. Paterson says "education is the road to economic development" in New York, but at the same time, he's calling for a major cut in school aid.

Billy Easton, executive director of the Alliance for Quality Education, asks: Where's the money? Easton says Paterson is missing the mark by billions of dollars when it comes to backing up his belief in the power of education for New York.

"There's a disconnect between the speech and his education policies, which include what he himself has called 'draconian budget cuts for education.' The gap is 2.5 billion dollars; you couldn't get much more dramatic than that."

The governor painted a dire picture in Wednesday's message, projecting that 225,000 New Yorkers could lose their jobs in the current recession. In addition to cutting school aid, his proposed $121 billion dollar budget will include layoffs for state workers. Easton says many of the cuts could be avoided if Paterson would allow a tax increase on higher-income residents, those making more than $250,000 annually.

In another area, the governor's budget would leave the state as one of only four in the nation that provides zero state funding for civil legal aid. Kristin Brown Lilley, the director of legislative advocacy at the Empire Justice Center, says that means low-income New Yorkers risk losing access to legal help in vital areas.

"Those are matters like eviction, foreclosure, helping domestic violence victims get orders of protection, helping people get disability benefits — real basic legal needs."

Brown-Lilley says the cut to legal aid, $7.2 million, is tiny compared to the nearly $16 billion overall deficit. She says Paterson has been a supporter of Legal Aid in the past and she is hopeful that all or part of the funding can be restored over the next 30 days - the period during which amendments can be made to the budget.

Mike Clifford, Public News Service - NY