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Legislature passes $175B state budget deal early Monday

Measures revealed in bills on the last day of the fiscal year included a commission that could decide to use state funds to help fund political campaigns and a 3.9 percent increase in school aid for Long Island.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, seen Jan. 15, said

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, seen Jan. 15, said Sunday of the budget being voted on by the State Legislature: "This is probably the broadest ... strongest, progressive message that we've made." Photo Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

ALBANY — An hour or so after sunrise, the State Legislature on Monday completed a wide-ranging $175.5 billion state budget that will boost school aid despite tough times, create a mandatory cap on property tax levies and infuse cash into transportation systems statewide — including the Long Island Rail Road to improve on-time performance.

Technically, the 2019-20 spending plan came in a wee bit late as lawmakers slid past the midnight deadline for an "on time" budget. Agreements on the massive bills weren’t reached by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and legislative leaders until Sunday, which delayed the hours needed to analyze and debate thousands of pages though go into the budget. 

Measures revealed Sunday, the last day of the fiscal year, included a commission that could decide to use state funds to help fund political campaigns, three hours' paid time off for New Yorkers to vote and a 3.9 percent increase in school aid for Long Island. Even while dealing with a $3 billion revenue shortfall from the previous fiscal year, lawmakers still adopted a budget in which overall spending grew about $7 billion over what they approved a year ago.

The State Senate finished passing bills after 3 a.m. Monday. The Assembly finished and adjourned just before 7:45 a.m.

As lawmakers raced to meet a midnight deadline to pass the 2019-20 budget on time, newly released figures show the Long Island Rail Road might receive as much as $4 billion over five years for capital improvements under an expanded New York City congestion pricing plan, according to budget bills the State Legislature began enacting Sunday. Cuomo’s congestion pricing plan aims to reduce traffic congestion and fund mass transit improvements by charging a toll to motorists entering Manhattan south of 61st Street.

The LIRR was to get more than $1 billion under the original projections provided by state lawmakers and depending on how swiftly the state borrowed money to launch transit building projects. On Sunday, new figures indicate the state will be able to borrow more quickly for capital improvements because the budget adds several new taxes and fees to help pay for mass transit.

The new revenue streams include a portion of an internet sales tax and a real estate transfer tax in New York City on residences worth more than $2 million and commercial buildings worth more than $3 million, according to the bills.

“This is going to be a turning point for the LIRR and for Long Island,” said Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach).

Budget bills on Sunday also included greater oversight of the LIRR’s management. The provision will require an independent audit of the MTA, said Sen. James Gaughran (D-Huntington), who called the provision “a major overhaul of the status quo that resulted in failing infrastructure and worst-in-the-world service by the MTA.”

"We're doing real reform," Melissa DeRosa, chief of staff for Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, said.  "We're finding waste, fraud and abuse."

“This is probably the broadest … strongest, progressive message that we’ve made,” Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Sunday. "It was a bold, aggressive, hard agenda."

While Cuomo also said the spending plan is sound and balanced in the face of a $3 billion deficit and declining revenues, the independent Citizens Budget Commission said the budget increases spending by more than 3 percent in tough times.

"Unfortunately, the state's leaders did not take sufficient action to protect New Yorkers from fiscal and service impacts of a possible economic downturn," the commission stated Sunday.

Senate Republican leader John Flanagan (R-East Northport) called congestion pricing another "payroll tax," like the one in 2009 when Democrats last controlled the State Senate. The tax was highly unpopular and led to the GOP regaining the majority a year later.

Flanagan said the budget as a whole taxed too much. "It's not responsible whatsoever," he said in an interview.

Cuomo and his budget director, Robert Mujica, disagreed. They said they added to the rainy day fund and have a plan  to further boost reserves to $690 million.

Cuomo, clearly still upset at losing the Amazon headquarters projects early this year in part because of a state senator’s opposition, inserted a measure Sunday that allows him to remove a member from Public Authorities Control Board if he or she acted beyond their legal authority. Cuomo faulted Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Queens) for opposing the Amazon deal. Gianaris had been chosen to serve on the PACB, which gives final approval of major projects that involve state tax breaks and other benefits. 

"The consequences destabilized our ability to fundamentally attract business to New York," Cuomo said Sunday. He said a business operator he tried to lure to New York said he feared being "Amazoned."

The Senate's Democratic majority had no immediate comment.

Budget bills agreed upon and released Sunday also detailed Cuomo's plan for a commission that could decide to end "fusion voting," New York's uncommon practice of adding votes made on a minority party line to a major party candidate. That would probably hurt the Working Families Party that did not support Cuomo in the last election and instead backed actress and activist Cynthia Nixon. It also would probably hurt Republicans, who have drawn votes on the Conservative Party and Independence Party lines.

Cuomo defended pushing  public campaign financing  to a commission. "It is too complicated," he said."The most important part of public financing [of campaigns] is that we pass it … a lot of Democrats don't support public financing."

He said a commission with resources to study the best systems and a mandate to take action is a better bet than putting the issue to the legislature where "you would have 57 decision points for it to go sideways."

It was a similar fate for legalizing marijuana. Cuomo had proposed the measure to in part raise $250 million in tax revenue, but the issue proved complex amid rising opposition by law enforcement and uncertain support in the Senate.

Missing the budget deadline could cost legislators their $10,000 raise in 2020 under a compensation legislation struck in December.

But legislators may have a card left to play to get Cuomo to agree they passed a “timely” budget, if not one that was on time. Cuomo’s own raise needs a supporting resolution from the Assembly and Senate, something legislators hadn’t yet provided.

Until Sunday, the governor and the legislature had passed just one of the last five annual budgets on time, after passing three in a row on time immediately after Cuomo took office in 2011.

Cuomo insisted, however, that this would be his ninth "on-time" budget.

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