Budget won’t close North Country prisons

No North Country prisons will be closed as a result of ongoing negotiations over the state’s 2013-14 budget.

Meanwhile, state Sen. Betty Little, R-Queensbury, expects a budget deal to be voted upon soon, possibly as early as this weekend.

Little told the Enterprise Wednesday that the Chateaugay Correctional Facility in Franklin County was briefly targeted for closure during budget talks this week, but said that’s no longer being considered.

“Chateaugay was taken off the table,” Little said.

When Gov. Andrew Cuomo introduced his budget earlier this year, he called for two downstate prisons to be closed: Bayview, a medium-security prison in Manhattan, and Beacon, a minimum-security prison in Dutchess County. Senate Democrats countered by proposing the state close the Chateaugay prison instead.

Little noted that prison closures are generally proposed by the governor or by state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision officials – not by lawmakers.

Little said she is relieved that another North Country prison isn’t being targeted. In recent years, the state has closed prisons in Lyon Mountain and Gabriels. Prisons are major employers in northern New York and in other rural areas.

Cuomo has called for 60-day notice before a prison is closed. Little said she’d like to see that increased to a year.

Closed-door budget talks between Cuomo and legislative leaders continued this week. Little said lawmakers could be called to the floor to vote on the budget Friday or Saturday.

Little said she hopes the final budget will restore aid for North Country school districts.

“A lot of my schools lost high tax aid,” she said. “A couple of them gained it, but of the 48 schools I represent, 29 had high tax aid and some of them had it reduced by 50 and 70 percent. We’re hoping to restore that.

“We also have a lot of schools that we’re really working to try to get additional money for.”

Little said districts like Tupper Lake are still coping with the Gap Elimination Adjustment, implemented by former Gov. David Paterson. The GEA has cost the Tupper Lake school district $5.4 million in the last four years, according to Superintendent Seth McGowan.

“The way the gap is being restored, every year they get a little bit more, but some schools are getting a higher percentage more than others,” Little said.

Tax rebates for middle-class families will likely be included in the final budget deal, Little said. The amount of those rebate checks would be $350 for families with at least one child who make between $40,000 and $300,000 per year.

“That’s a pretty well-off middle class in our area for sure,” Little said.

Modifications to the Secure Ammunitions and Firearms Enforcement Act could happen, too, but they aren’t part of budget negotiations, Little said. Currently, lawmakers are wrangling with Cuomo to get rid of a stipulation within the gun law that would ban the sale of 10-bullet ammunition magazines, reducing the maximum capacity to seven bullets.

“I’d like to be able to start over and repeal most of it, but we certainly don’t have the votes to do that,” Little said.

Little said she thinks pressure from law-abiding gun owners and counties has caused Cuomo to revisit parts of the law.