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Reaction To NY Governor's Budget Proposal Runs The Gamut

Governor Andrew Cuomo
Office of Governor Andrew Cuomo
Governor Andrew Cuomo

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo released his $168 billion budget proposal Tuesday. His rationale for a good part of the spending plan focused on combating the new federal tax legislation. Reaction to the proposal is mixed.

The Democratic governor proposed closing the state’s $4.4 billion deficit a number of ways, including with $1 billion in revenue raisers. And he proposed this for education.

“Education has a growth cap. The growth cap this year is 1.5 percent. We would propose actually doubling the growth cap to 3 percent, which is $769 million for education. We have increased education more than any area in state government, period.”

Executive Director of the New York State School Boards Association Tim Kremer says that’s a far cry from the $2 billion in additional state aid his group requested. Kremer says the $769 million actually works out to less.

“But if you take that down, pare it down, take away the categorical and the set-asides and the things that are pre-determined as to how that spending’s going to be, you get down to $288 million in flexible operating aid statewide,” Kremer says. “We had asked for at least $1.5 billion in flexible operating aid, so hence the statement that what the governor proposes is about one-fifth of what are needs actually are.”

Cuomo also talked about the possibility of establishing a payroll tax and exploring other avenues to help make up for lost state and local tax deductions under the new federal tax law.

“The charitable deduction could work on the local level but again, it's not dollar for dollar and it's not a perfect situation, but a local government could set up a charity for education, could set up a charity for health care, you make a contribution to the charity you get a federal tax deduction and you get a state credit for the amount you contributed.”

Here’s Kremer.

“The budget proposal the governor puts forward is fine until you get this point, and maybe we’re going to pay for education use charitable funding system. What? How’s that work?” says Kremer. “And it immediately causes confusion and concern. People are not sure what they even think about that.”

And confusion over how to pay for something, he says, can spook taxpayers. Kremer says school districts need a dependable, predictable funding stream.

And two Hudson Valley state assemblymen say they have secured enhanced full-day kindergarten aid in the budget proposal. Democrats James Skoufis and Kenneth Zebrowski represent two of five remaining districts – North Rockland and Washingtonville, in Orange County – that have yet to make the switch to full-day kindergarten.

Republican State Senator Terrence Murphy offers praise and criticism. He applauds the governor for adding $26 million for the Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services, or OASAS.

“So how that’s spent is going to be the question, whether it’s through residential treatment centers, whether it’s in prevention, whether it’s in recovery,” says Murphy.

Murphy, a member of the Senate Heroin Task Force, would like to see a large amount go to residential treatment centers. He’s interested in Cuomo’s idea to implement a 2 cents per milligram opioid surcharge paid by opioid manufacturers to offset the costs of fighting opioid abuse. Murphy says he’ll do more research on this.

Cuomo wants to fund a Department of Health study on legalizing recreational marijuana. Murphy, while a strong supporter of medical marijuana, says he’ll be interested to see what comes out of such a study. However:

“Am I in favor of recreational, sitting around, smoking a joint? No, absolutely not,” says Murphy. “Is it something that he’s, the DOH is going to, he wants to fund DOH to do a study on this. I think the study that, it’s just going to be we’re going to find out how much revenue he can actually get.”

Murphy says he was upset by what he did not hear regarding the closure by 2021 of Indian Point nuclear power plant, in his 40th state Senate District.

“I am so disheartened that there was not one mention of anything about Indian Point, and I just texted the governor’s office that I’m very upset that it’s not even being talked about.”

Murphy is a member of the state Indian Point Closure Task Force.

“I’m proposing to put a special line item fund and fund roughly $15-$20 million over the next four years for the closure of 2022 so we actually have a rainy day reserve fund to figure out what we’re going to need to do over there,” Murphy says.

On the environmental side, Dan Shapley, Water Quality Program Director for Riverkeeper, applauds the governor’s continued multiyear $2.5 billion investment in drinking water infrastructure and source water protection. It’s an amount, though, he says will have to increase if not this year, then down the road.

“We’re also happy to see that the Environmental Protection Fund is put at $300 million, which is where it’s been the last couple of years and is the highest that is has been in over decades,” Shapley says. “So that’s a really important source of funding for a lot of environmental programs in our state, and we’re glad that commitment is made.”

He adds:

“We’re grateful that the governor put a million dollars more into the Hudson River Estuary Program,” says Shapley. “At that same time, we are aware that it probably needs even more than this to sustain its programs. So we are going to be looking for champions on the legislature to help us see that money for the Hudson River Estuary Program increase even more than the governor has proposed.”

And Riverkeeper wants the Walkill River added to Cuomo’s proposed $65 million initiative to combat harmful algal blooms in Upstate New York water bodies.

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