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Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's budget: Hundreds of millions for mass transit, education

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's proposed budget for 2021-22 contains hundreds of millions of dollars for state programs that fund services in Nassau and Suffolk counties. Following are some of the highlights of the Cuomo spending plan:

TRANSPORTATION

Cuomo’s proposed budget continues to advance several major transportation initiatives — including the eventual implementation of congestion pricing in Manhattan — but also cuts overall transportation spending by $3 million.

Operating aid for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority would hold steady at around $5.2 billion. Cuomo also said the state will honor its commitment to contribute another $3 billion this year toward the MTA’s $51.5 billion capital program, which funds major infrastructure investments throughout the transit system, including on the Long Island Rail Road, through 2024.

Funding for the Department of Motor Vehicles stays at $81 million. Key department initiatives include extending by two years the ignition interlock program for those convicted of an alcohol-related traffic violation.

Department of Transportation funding would fall by $6 million, to $896 million. Funding for bridge and road improvement projects is $477.8 million, about the same as last year.

Non-MTA transit agencies in the downstate region, such as Nassau County's NICE Bus and Suffolk County Transit, would receive $330 million in aid, compared with $394 million Cuomo pledged last year.

The budget also provides $20 million in capital aid to support transit agencies’ transition to electric buses.

Alfonso Castillo

HEALTH

According to Cuomo’s budget, state spending on Medicaid would go from $19.9 million in the current year to $20.6 million in 2021-22.

The proposed budget includes "across-the-board" reductions in rates paid to Medicaid providers in an effort to keep growth at about 3%.

Part of the state’s Medicaid redesign hinges on expansion of telehealth — medical evaluations and services that can be handled remotely via phone or video. The plan expands telehealth for mental health and addiction programs, and requires insurers to offer e-triage and virtual emergency departments for clients.

Cuomo's proposed spending plan continues funding for the statewide COVID-19 vaccination program designed to provide free shots for almost 20 million residents. The budget repeats Cuomo’s pledge to establish a network of rapid testing locations in an effort to speed reopening of business and entertainment centers.

Lisa L. Colangelo

EDUCATION

Some features of the governor’s proposal for aid to public schools left key educational leaders puzzled.

Total school support, according to Cuomo’s plan, would rise to $31.7 billion for the 2021-22 school year, up 7.1% from last year. That would represent a generous increase, during a period of significant economic disruption.

The dollar total, however, includes $1.9 billion in so-called "STAR" money, which is used to hold down property taxes and is not spent directly on schools. Also included is more than $3.8 billion in federal aid, which some experts have said could be spread over two or three years, rather than a single academic year.

"I’m comfortable in saying that there might be some good news and bad news in this budget," said Brian Cechnicki, executive director of ASBO New York, a professional association of school business officials. "But until I see more detail, I won’t know just how much good news and bad news there is."

"The surface looks good," said Ron Masera, superintendent of Center Moriches schools and president of the Suffolk County Association of School Officials. "But we’ve got to dig into the details to tell what this really means for us."

School aid "runs" had not been released as of 6 p.m. Tuesday.

John Hildebrand

BUSINESS AND JOBS

Cuomo’s budget would provide $50 million in tax credits to encourage hiring by small businesses. Another $50 million in tax credits would assist restaurants to fully reopen after lifting of dining restrictions imposed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Assistance for the two economic sectors would occur if New York receives $15 billion in federal funding. State budget director Robert Mujica said Cuomo will work with lawmakers to implement the tax credits if federal aid is less.

Kevin Law, president of the Long Island Association business group, said, "the governor is absolutely right to focus his economic budget initiatives to help small businesses, especially those in our downtowns. They were devastated from COVID-19," he said.

Law, also co-vice chairman of the Long Island Regional Economic Development Council, said the proposed Cuomo budget contains $750 million for another statewide competition among regional councils for grants and loans. The contest was canceled last year.

Members of Long Island’s biotechnology sector, such as vaccine maker Codagenix Inc. in Farmingdale and test maker Chembio Diagnostics Inc. in Hauppauge, could benefit from Cuomo’s proposed $40 million fund to commercialize inventions used in the treatment of infectious diseases.

Advocates for small business said they appreciated Cuomo’s acknowledgment of store closings, bankruptcies and other disruptions caused by last spring’s shutdown of nonessential activity.

But "proposals to levy new or increased taxes … on distressed small businesses should be rejected out-of-hand," said Greg Biryla, senior state director for the National Federation of Independent Business.

Cuomo also would direct $56 million to promote the tourism industry, which has been battered during the pandemic. Cuomo said reviving the sector was crucial to reviving the economy because it is the state’s fourth-largest employer.

James T. Madore

ENERGY

Cuomo in his budget address Tuesday reiterated New York was "going to be a leader in the green economy," with 100 projects such as solar and wind farms "ready to go." He also promised a "green [electric] grid that connects the entire state from Canada down with renewable energy."

But much of the funding for the $26 billion in renewable projects he touted will come from outside investment and federal dollars, over a period of years.

For instance, Cuomo's 2021-22 budget proposal points to $400 million in "public and private financing" for infrastructure investments at five port facilities in New York involved in manufacturing and maintenance of offshore wind farms.

Large energy companies such as Equinor, which recently was awarded billions in state contracts for two new offshore wind farms by 2027 and 2028, will contribute millions of dollars to help build and operate those port facilities in South Brooklyn and Albany. Manufacturers that use them also will contribute.

Ultimately, the cost of wind projects, solar arrays and a greener grid will be borne by electricity ratepayers through utilities’ purchase of energy, along with renewable energy credits that utilities must buy through a state program to help speed the green transition.

Mujica said the state’s contribution to all infrastructure programs, totaling more some $300 million, will come from a "combination of pay as you go" funds from state coffers and "debt dollars."

Although the state has considered raising new revenue for renewable programs through taxes on fossil fuels, for instance, the Cuomo administration stopped short of considering new taxes on average New Yorkers to pay for them, Mujica said.

"Is now the right time to raise taxes on individuals, or should we wait until the economy gets a little better?" Mujica asked. The state opted for the latter.

Mark Harrington

ENVIRONMENT

The Cuomo budget maintains funding for environmental projects, including those for clean water, and increases spending at the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

The budget includes $500 million in the Clean Water Investment Act and $300 million for the Environmental Protection Fund.

"It appears he maintained the overall thrust of the environmental protection priorities of state, despite the COVID-caused collapse of many of our revenue streams," Assemb. Steven Englebright (D-Setauket), chair of the Assembly’s environment committee, said of the budget proposal.

"We were braced for some really bad news, but are pleasantly surprised and relieved," said Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, a nonprofit group.

The budget would increase the DEC budget by $168 million, or 11%, to $1.69 billion. The increase is dependent on $6 billion in federal aid, according to a state official.

Some $300 million for the Environmental Protection Fund would go toward farmland protection, invasive species prevention and water quality improvements, along with other programs.

The spending includes $41 million for solid waste programs, $88 million for parks and recreation, $151 million for open space programs and $20 million for the climate change mitigation and adaptation program.

Cuomo’s budget leaves out a $3 billion environmental bond act proposal that would have been similar to one passed in last year’s budget. That proposal was pulled from the November ballot because of the pandemic before voters could vote on it in November.

David M. Schwartz

State & Region