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Senators pushing bill to end GAP Elimination Adjustment


Legislative sponsors of Bill 5452, calling for the end of the Gap Elimination Adjustment, are pushing to have the state take a serious look at ending the tax as soon as possible. State Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, said if there is a surplus in the state budget then there is no longer a need to continue the implementation of the penalty tax on public schools.

“This bill was originally proposed last year. This year there is a whole new dynamic,” Mrs. Ritchie said. “This bill amends the education law, requiring the state to pay down the gap elimination adjustment.”

Mrs. Ritchie and her legislative colleagues are hoping to take the bill before legislators to have the GEA’s conclusion be included in the final 2014 budget.

The bill was written in 2012 by Sen. John J. Flanagan, and co-sponsored by Mrs. Ritchie, Philip M. Boyle, Kathleen A. Marchione, James L. Seward, David Carlucci, Jack M. Martins, Cecilia Tkacz, John A. DeFrancisco, Michael H. Ranzenhofer and David J. Valesky.

When the elimination of the GEA wasn’t introduced in the 2013 budget, Mrs. Ritchie said, they reconstructed the bill to stand alone. The bill was written to require the state to pay down the GEA in three years. Now legislators who support the bill are pushing for its implementation sooner.

The GEA was introduced in 2010 as a means to close a $10 billion state budget gap.

School districts say the GEA limits the programs they can provide, and at schools such as General Brown Central has resulted in the layoff of dozens of employees. The impact of the lost funding as a result of the GEA is nearly $8 billion.

Mrs. Ritchie said she and her colleagues have seen restoration of the state funding but as the state’s fiscal prospects improve, efforts continue to be made to lessen the impact of the GEA. In the 2013-14 budget, the legislature increased the executive’s proposed gap elimination adjustment restoration from $321 million to $517.5 million, leaving a remaining gap of $1.64 billion.

But Mrs. Ritchie said more can be done to restore funding to the schools so they can maintain their already-strained programs. This bill would ensure that at the end of three years the GEA would be fully restored and phased out.

“Now we’re having conversations with our colleagues in Albany about how to close this gap, and we’ll keep advocating for the end of gap elimination adjustment, if not this year then as soon as possible,” Mrs. Ritchie said.

She said before she took office she knew bringing down the GEA was a goal for her time in office. After several conversations with Mr. Flanagan last year, she signed onto the bill. Before Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s budget presentation Tuesday, they hoped to introduce a bill with the timeline of eliminating the GEA in three years.

“Now that there is a surplus and the governor has said there are funds for pre-K programs, the timeline has changed,” Mrs. Ritchie said. “In a perfect world no one would argue that having full pre-K and kindergarten programs are beneficial for children’s education. The reality is most of the schools I represent have trouble maintaining their current programs. Some no longer have any advanced placement courses, music programs or language programs. That’s not helping the situation for anyone.”

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