State Legislature keeps promise, passes budget
ALBANY -- New York's Legislature delivered on a big campaign promise Monday night when it passed a fourth straight on-time budget.
The Senate and Assembly overwhelmingly supported a $137.9 billion budget, which increased spending just under 2 percent. It was full of tax breaks for businesses and for property taxpayers, while increasing school aid $1.1 billion or 5.3 percent.
The budget totals $142.8 billion if temporary federal funds for superstorm Sandy recovery and Obamacare are included. Lawmakers began the daylong slog of passing bills in the morning, while liberal groups roamed the State Capitol halls to protest a budget they said "favors the wealthy at the expense of New York's working families."
"This budget is all about compromise," said Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan). "There are things I'd rather not see in this budget, but on balance it's a great budget."
Legislative leaders in the Senate and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo scrambled to meet Monday night's deadline at midnight, the beginning of the state's fiscal year. But it required an order from the governor Monday afternoon to suspend the three-day period of public review required by the constitution. "We've replaced the dysfunction of the past with a new spirit of bipartisan cooperation," Senate co-leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) said in a statement. "And, we're getting results for hardworking New Yorkers."
Property tax rebate
The budget includes a property tax rebate that will provide taxpayers a check equal to as much as a 2 percent increase in local property taxes for the next two years.
However, before local residents get their checks, school districts and local governments must increase spending no more than 2 percent each year and submit plans to cut spending by at least 1 percent a year for the following three years.
Renters also would see a tax break.
The budget deal also prohibits scores from standardized tests aligned with the higher standards of the new Common Core to be used in student promotion, although the scores will still be used in evaluating teachers.
A Cuomo administration official predicted the change would reduce the number and volume of Common Core protests around the state, saying it "takes the air out of the balloon."
"I don't know what else you could do besides saying [the tests] won't be on the [student's] transcript," the official said.
The budget also provides tax breaks to manufacturers and other employers as well as some of the biggest banks on Wall Street. The effort is part of Cuomo's efforts to change New York's image as one of the nation's highest taxed states.
Business groups applauded his efforts. "This budget agreement takes meaningful steps toward making New York more affordable for both businesses and taxpayers," said Brian Sampson of the business group Unshackle Upstate.
Objections from both sides
In contrast, liberal groups objected to the corporate tax cuts and lack of a full-fledged system for public financing political campaigns to limit influence of big donors.
"Cuomo, more empty promises on fair elections," read one sign held by some of the hundreds of protesters outside the legislative chambers Monday. "Stop Albany bailouts for Wall Street banks," exclaimed another held by demonstrators wearing Cuomo masks with Pinocchio noses.
"This budget provides tax cuts to bankers, millionaires and New York City real estate interests while virtually ignoring our state's record child poverty rates and unprecedented levels of hunger and homeless," said Ron Deutsch of New Yorkers for Fiscal Fairness.
Assembly Republicans decried a provision to help New York City expand prekindergarten. They noted that Mayor Bill de Blasio wanted to use a city-only tax hike, but Cuomo's push to use state funds means state residents are funding something the city wanted.
"Now the rest of the state is paying for" the city, said Assemb. Al Graf (R-Holbrook).
Several groups protested the budget's inclusion of a bill that creates a test case for public financing of campaigns, but only in the comptroller's race in 2014.
"It is at best a fatally flawed effort to create public financing of campaigns," said Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group. "At worst, it's a cynical move to create the illusion of reform, while in reality creating a program that will fail, and to kill the Moreland Commission."
He referred to an apparent trade-off in the budget to dissolve Cuomo's Moreland Act commission, which has investigated corruption after a long string of scandals.