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Good Government, Reform Groups Size Up NYS Budget

Good government and reform groups are weighing in on the New York state budget that the Senate passed Sunday. The $153 billion budget includes a variety of policies, which some say is par for the course and others say is too much in the wrong place.

The state budget includes provisions to provide tuition-free public college for middle class students whose families earn up to $125,000 a year; expand ride-sharing to upstate New York; provide budget flexibility to react to potential loss of federal aid; and raise the age of criminal responsibility to 18, to name a few. Karen Scharff is executive director of Citizen Action of New York.

“I think instead of preparing to protect our communities from Trump’s budget cuts by having a fair tax system, really raising the taxes on millionaires and billionaires that would allow New York state to do what it needs to do for all New Yorkers, the governor instead was focused on making sure that he could fast track future state cuts when federal cuts come down,” Scharff says. “And that’s really the opposite of what was needed and the opposite of what the legislature really wanted.”

Dick Dadey is executive director of Citizens Union. He expands on Governor Andrew Cuomo’s power concerning future budget cuts.

“The legislature has to come up with its own plan within 90 days of the governor’s plan in order for that to trump the governor’s plan,” Dadey says. “But, in order for that to happen, the Senate and Assembly have to agree, and that’s going to be a very tall order. And that gives the governor a very strong hand in determining what those budget cuts are, and determining them by himself.”

Dadey would rather see the following.

“Ideally, we would like to see the Senate and the Assembly and the governor together decide what those cuts are just like the governor and the legislature agree on what the state budget should be,” Dadey says.

Citizen Action’s Scharff praises two of the budget’s components in particular.

“Thanks to the grassroots organizing that happened all across the state and the strong push by the state Assembly led by Speaker Heastie, New York really took a step into the future by raising the age of criminal prosecution and also by providing additional foundation aid for our public schools, and those are two  really important advances in the budget,” Scharff says. “Hopefully that will mean in the future that we can begin to really address the significant additional needs of our public schools.”

Meanwhile, Dadey questions the need for deciding such issues as ride sharing and raise the age in the budget.

“And establishing a statewide Hate Crimes Task Force, which only cost $1 million, but that had to be decided as a matter of policy? These are important issues that the state should make a decision on but I’m not sure why they all need to be grouped together and decided as the budget other than it gives the governor and the other stakeholders who want these issues addressed greater leverage to have these decided during the state budget process,” Dadey says. “But that’s not how our state government should function. There’s too much trying to be accomplished during the state budget approval that everything is being loaded onto it like lights on a Christmas tree.”

Republican Fishkill Assemblyman Kieran Lalor says there were items in the budget that did not belong.

“If it’s not about taxing and spending, if it’s not budgetary in nature, it shouldn’t be a  part of the budget,” says Lalor. “Whether it’s something I approve of or not, for example, ride share, I approve of it, I like it, but it shouldn’t have been a part of the budget because it’s not budgetary.”

Again, Scharff.

“I think from a  point of view of good government and citizens having a voice, it would be better  if some of these policy issues were dealt with in a way where there was more time and more opportunity for the public to weigh in but, in reality, when you’re trying to reach a budget agreement among two houses and the governor, the budget is the place where a lot of those policy discussions are always going to happen,” says Scharff.

Cuomo says the 2018 state budget advances his Middle Class Recovery Act. It also holds spending growth to 2 percent. And the budget invests $2.5 billion in the Clean Water Infrastructure Act and includes $70 million for statewide tourism.

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