© 2023 WRVO Public Media
NPR News for Central New York
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Speaker Heastie makes Dream Act top priority

Karen DeWitt/WRVO News
Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie talks about the Dream Act at his first press conference since becoming speaker.

Newly-elected Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie made clear one of his top priorities in his first news conference, where he called for passage of the Dream Act, which would offer college aid to children of undocumented immigrants.

Heastie says when it comes to helping young New Yorkers with paying for college, there’s a double standard.

“When we make these programs to young men and women who were born here, it’s called an investment,” Heastie said. “When we want to make these programs available to young men and women who were brought here, it’s called a fiscal burden. I call it discrimination.”

Heastie was joined by college student Zuleima Dominguez, who is working two jobs to afford tuition, because her parents’ undocumented status makes her ineligible for aid. Dominguez says she grew up in New York.

“If I don’t belong here, where do I belong?” Dominguez asked.

The bill passed overwhelmingly in the Democratic-led Assembly, but many Republicans voted against it, including Assemblyman Dean Murray from Eastern Long Island. Murray says he fears it would take away money in the Tuition Assistance Program, known as TAP, from children whose parents have been in the U.S. much longer.

“They’ve built this state, this country, they’ve done everything right, and they feel as though they are being punished by this,” Murray said. “Because there is not an infinite amount of money in TAP.”

The estimated cost for providing aid to students under the Dream Act is $27 million dollars. The total TAP budget is around $1 billion, according to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s budget office.

The Dream Act for now is a one-house bill. The state Senate rejected the measure in 2014. And Senate Leader Dean Skelos says that sentiment hasn’t changed.

“We do not support the Dream Act,” Skelos said. “It’s been voted down.”

Cuomo is attempting to strengthen the chances of passing the Dream Act this year. He’s put it in the state budget, and linked it to passage of an education tax credit supported in the Senate. The measure would help wealthy donors who want to contribute to private schools and charter schools.

Skelos says his Republican members are not in favor of the deal, and think the education tax credit should stand on its own.

“They should be unlinked,” Skelos said.

Heastie says his Assembly Democrats have not yet decided whether to support the Education Tax Credit, but says he’s also uncomfortable with all of the linked issues in Cuomo’s budget. And he says he told the governor so during his first closed door leader’s meeting.

“I clearly let the governor know that the legislature, particularity the Assembly majority, intends and wants to have our partnerships and checks and balances to be respected,” Heastie said.

Heastie says despite that, he believes the budget talks are going well so far, and he expects the budget to be finished by the March 31 deadline. Cuomo has threatened to make the budget late if he doesn’t get what he wants from the legislature.

“I didn’t get any indication that we’re getting towards a doomsday scenario,” Heastie said.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.