Survey about tuition, bill to cap spending and a commission on rural communities are part of Helming’s first days

Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently proposed free college tuition for eligible students who enroll in a State University of New York or City University of New York college. State Sen. Pam Helming, R-Canandaigua, wants to know what you think about that.

Helming has posted a survey on her Senate website, at http://bit.ly/2jryIUM.

The proposed program would be open to students whose families make $125,000 or less per year and who enroll full-time at a SUNY or CUNY two- or four-year college.

Helming said she has heard a lot from parents and students in her district concerned about college costs. “Over the past decade, the cost of going to a SUNY school has jumped 55 percent,” she said.

Eighty percent of households statewide make $125,000 or less with an estimated 940,000 households having college-aged children that would be eligible for the program, according to Helming. The plan would cost about $163 million per year once fully phased in over three years:

Beginning fall 2017, eligible students would have a family income of $100,000 or less, increasing to $110,000 in 2018 and reaching $125,000 in 2019.

The College Affordability Survey was one of the first announcements from Helming since she took office a few weeks ago. Her first vote supported a permanent cap on state spending. Bill (S365) would limit state spending to a three-year rolling average of inflation. It would “help end the historic pattern of ‘boom and bust’ cycle budgeting,” according to Helming. It would also increase the maximum capacity of the state’s “rainy day fund.”

“New York’s school districts and local governments currently operate under a tax cap and I applaud my Senate colleagues for taking action to create a state spending cap,” Helming stated. She added that a self-imposed spending cap by the Senate Republican Conference has saved taxpayers a cumulative $31 billion since the 2010-11 budget. The savings included the elimination of a $10 billion deficit inherited from previous administrations, according to Helming.

Bill S365 is on its way to the Assembly for consideration.

In other news, Helming is now the new head of the Senate’s Rural Resources Commission. Named chairwoman last week, Helming said the commission is charged with examining the impact of rural resources on the state’s economy, along with reviewing existing laws and regulations as they relate to rural resources and assessing the effectiveness of programs.

The Rural Resources Commission is comprised of five senators and five Assembly members. They are tasked with sponsoring legislation, recommending policy and promoting efforts to enhance and protect New York’s rural resources.

More than 80 percent of New York state is made up of rural communities with about 3.3 million residents in 44 rural counties, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Helming said the commission acts as a “clearinghouse for policies aimed at preserving and boosting New York’s agricultural sector, protecting the health and well being of rural residents, developing affordable housing and safeguarding rural New York’s infrastructure.”

The issues involve agriculture, energy, healthcare, economic development, environmental concerns, education, mandate relief and tax relief.