New York State budget: Senate passes bill with $350 tax rebate, minimum wage hike

Members of the New York State Senate meet Members of the New York State Senate meet at the Capitol in Albany. (June 23, 2011) Photo Credit: AP

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New York's Senate approved a roughly $136 billion budget that raises the minimum wage to $9 per hour over three years and offers a $350 rebate to families with children, completing the votes a little over two hours before dawn on Wednesday.

The Assembly plans to vote on the budget on Thursday. This will be the third time in a row the state will have met its April 1 deadline.

The new accord will increase school aid by about $1 billion, crack down on abuse of a property tax program, and ensure that downstate gas stations have backup generators if there are power outages.

The school districts in six county Hudson Valley region will receive about $93 million more for state aid in 2013-14 than in 2012-13, not including construction dollars. The budget slightly increased the overall contribution to education proposed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, and shifted dollars from grants into basic school funding, said Chris Bresnan, a spokesman for Assemb. Kenneth Zebrowski (D-New City) said.

"We're always trying to maximize as many dollars to the schools," Bresnan said.

Senate co-leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) called the new budget "pro-jobs and pro-family." He added: "I think we have achieved a budget that is fiscally responsible."

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There were complaints, however.

Sen. Kevin S. Parker (D-Brooklyn) said: "The governor bullies us," faulting many aspects of the budget, from the failure to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana to a so-called pension smoothing plan to help localities afford contributions.

Parker is no stranger to confrontations. In 2010, for example, he was found guilty of misdemeanor charges that resulted from a scuffle with a photographer.

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Sen. Jose Peralta (D-Queens) bashed a provision that gives employers a tax credit for hiring minimum wage workers who are students, 16 to 19 years old, saying this created an incentive to discharge them once they turn 20. "We're paying Walmart to fire people," he said.

About 10 senators criticized this and other aspects of the new budget as "kumquats," picking up on one senator's reference to the budget as a fruit basket that contained this unlikeable component as well as likable items, such as peanut brittle.

Overall, the 2013-14 spending plan would increase by less than 2 percent. The total increases to $142.6 billion when federal aid for superstorm Sandy is included.

Budget documents published Tuesday show the state will spend an estimated $28 million to develop a new statewide gun-permit database as part of a new gun-control law.

The state will create a central database to hold records currently maintained at the county level.

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Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) called it a "powerful tool that will aid in enforcement" of the gun law, passed following the Newtown, Conn., school massacre. The law tightened the state's ban on military-style weapons.

The budget also includes a minimum-wage hike and a generous tax credit to businesses that pay the new minimum wage. The wage is set to go from its current $7.25 per hour to $9 by the end of 2015. Tax credits could cover $1.35 of the $1.75 hike that employers would pay.

Republicans fought for the tax credit, saying without it, businesses might lay off low-wage workers rather than face higher payroll. But the Fiscal Policy Institute, a labor-backed think tank, called the credit "ill-conceived and poorly drafted" and said taxpayers will end up subsidizing much of the minimum-wage hike.

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