In the last month, State Senator Jose Peralta has rolled out the allocation of nearly $450,000 in state funding to more than a half-dozen local organizations in his district.
His latest announcement was $100,000 to PS 69 in Jackson Heights for a new public address system. He joined Principal Martha Vasquez and dozens of students last Thursday in the auditorium to present the check.
“Education is the very basic pillar of our society,” Peralta said. “This is why it’s important that all of you as school children have the necessary resources and tools to move forward.”
According to Vasquez, the funding will go toward replacing the sound system in the cafeteria, gym and auditorium.
“A functioning public address system can make the difference when it comes to safety,” she said. “It will make us a safer school.”
Peralta touted the capital allocation as just part of the $18 million expected to come into his district’s schools in the current budget cycle. That $18 million is part of the overall $1.1 billion in aid for public schools, Peralta said.
Since leaving the mainline Democratic Conference earlier this year to join the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC), which has a power-sharing agreement with State Senate Republicans, Peralta has been able to bring home more funding.
He defended the move by saying that elected officials have been doing it for years.
“That’s because they’ve had a place at the table when it comes to budget negotiations,” he said. “This year, I had a place at the table.”
Peralta said every legislator, Democrat or Republican, has a chance to look at the budget, which includes capital dollars and operational funding, before voting on it. He said the budget goes through both the Assembly and the State Senate before being signed by the governor.
“Everyone votes for this, so it’s not like it’s a surprise,” he said. “As a legislator, you have the right to vote against it or for it. From what I’ve seen, from my experience with this latest budget appropriation, not too many mainline Democrats voted against the budget.
“When you have an opportunity to sit at the table, I think the bottom line is you can represent your district well,” Peralta added. “If they’ve been going without it for so many years, and they’ve been struggling for so many years, why not help these organizations when in need?”
Prior to joining the IDC, Peralta said, he still voted for the budget and state funding. But because he didn’t “have a seat at the table,” he was never able to push for more funding.
Now that he is part of the IDC and bringing home resources to his district, Peralta asked, why is it an issue now?
“I got elected not only to fight for legislation, but also to bring resources to the community,” he said. “My job is to fight for public dollars up in Albany and put it through a process where it’s actually voted on. If I succeed in doing that, what’s wrong with that?”
Peralta has faced backlash from local activists since his switch to the breakaway IDC. During regular protests, anti-IDC advocates have insisted that he either rejoin the mainline Democrats or be voted out in the next State Senate election in 2018.
So far, Peralta has shown no signs of going back. Instead, he has doubled down on his decision, which he said has benefited his community.
“I’m going to continue to represent my district because it’s my constituents that I’m beholden to,” he said. “Why not bring resources to my constituents, just like every other elected official is fighting and maneuvering and dealing with trying to bring resources to their district?”