The 2013-14 state legislative session is in its final month. The governor, legislators, and advocacy groups are all jockeying in an attempt to get their favored legislation passed and signed into law before the legislative session concludes. The Assembly majority, which is dominated by downstate Democrats, is pushing a number of agenda items including medical marijuana, publicly financed campaigns, and an expansion of abortion rights, to name a few. Unfortunately, there has been little or no discussion of passing legislation that will improve the business climate and create jobs in upstate New York.
One measure that passed in the Assembly in these waning days of the session was what has been euphemistically titled the Dream Act. This legislation would, if enacted, make illegal immigrants eligible for the state’s Tuition Assistance Program (TAP). In some respects, the fact that we, as a state, are dealing with this issue illustrates the failure of the federal government to enact comprehensive immigration reform. Nevertheless, I think it is troubling that we are providing state benefits to those who are in our country illegally. Accordingly, I voted against this bill as I have done in the past.
The central tenet of the American dream is that all citizens have the opportunity to seek a better life. Often, the opportunity to attend college is a pathway to that better life. To that end, in effort to help New York students who come from families who may not otherwise be able to afford college, we have the TAP program, which this year provided $976.7 million in tuition assistance.
While this is a lot of money, because of the increasing pool of applicants and because of the increased cost of college, there is a constant need, year after year, to increase funding for the program. Indeed, over the last 14 years, TAP funding has increased from $636 million in 2000 to $976.7 million this year. If the Dream Act were to become law, it would place an additional burden on the TAP program by expanding the pool of applicants to those who are not legally residing in the United States. By some estimates, this could cost the state as much as $20 million in additional TAP funding. This is money that could otherwise be spent on other priorities like health care, public schools, and infrastructure.
While the Assembly has now passed the Dream Act twice, earlier this year, the measure narrowly failed in the state Senate. As part of his efforts to secure the liberal Working Families Party line on the ballot, the governor made a commitment to use his influence to get the Dream Act enacted. Time will tell whether the governor honors this commitment, and he indeed has the influence to get the measure passed. In our state, where we continue to struggle economically, rather than spending political capital to get the Dream Act passed, I would rather see our focus at the end of this session be placed on reducing the burden of government on our lives and businesses. That will be my focus during these last two weeks of session.
William (Will) A. Barclay is the Republican representative of the 120th New York Assembly District, which encompasses most of Oswego County, including the cities of Oswego and Fulton, as well as the town of Lysander in Onondaga County and town of Ellisburg in Jefferson County. Contact him at email@example.com, or (315) 598-5185.