ALBANY — State legislators approved Saturday morning a $220 billion state budget that includes increased school aid, a partial suspension of the state gasoline tax, an accelerated middle class tax cut and initiatives to combat climate change.
The New York Legislature ended debate on the budget bill after 9 a.m. Saturday.
The size of the budget grew from $216 billion proposed by Gov. Kathy Hochul in January and is well above the budget of $212 billion that expired April 1. But the governor and Democratic legislative leaders this week said billions of dollars in federal COVID-19 recovery aid, as well as fast-rebounding revenues from state taxes, makes this the opportune time to “transform” the state.
Hochul said her first budget focused on “kitchen table issues” of New Yorkers, while improving state services. But Andrew Rein, president of the independent Citizens Budget Commission, warns the budget “adds billions of dollars in recurring spending with apparently no commensurate actions to restrain spending growth in other areas. This would cause significant future fiscal stress.”
“No budget is perfect,” said Sen. James Skoufis (D-Woodbury) on Friday. “You can nitpick … but this budget will transform the lives of millions of New Yorkers.” He cited elements of the budget, including suspending the state sales tax on gasoline by 16 cents per gallon from June to Dec. 31, and increased child care subsidies for thousands of more income-qualified New Yorkers.
“These are meaningful, meaningful items for New Yorkers,” he said.
Both the Senate and Assembly had debated the budget overnight.
The budget includes changes to the state bail law, acceleration of the siting of downstate casinos, a $4.2 billion environmental bond act and a green light for a new Buffalo Bills stadium.
Among the other highlights:
- School aid increased $2.1 billion to $31.5 billion. In addition, the budget provides $125 million in additional funding to expand prekindergarten in more school districts.
- A tax rate cut was accelerated for 6.1 million middle-class New Yorkers on their income taxes by 2023. The phased-in tax cut wasn’t scheduled to be fully realized until 2025. The tax rate reductions are worth hundreds of dollars for most eligible New Yorkers, depending on income and deductions.
- Requiring a study that could lead to converting the Long Island Power Authority into a full public utility. The legislation also would create a legislative commission "to investigate and report to the legislature on the establishment of a public power model for the operation of LIPA, whereby the authority would directly operate the utility as a true public power authority." A final report on creating the new entity is due April 1, 2023.
- The Supplemental Empire State Child Credit for children over 4 years old was expanded. It is worth between $84 per child for families with a household income over $50,000; up to $167 for families with a household income between $25,000 and $50,000; up to $250 for households making $10,000 to $25,000; and up to $334 per child for families making up to $10,000.
- The fee casino operators will have to pay for a state license to run any of three casinos to be built in New York City, Long Island or in the northern suburbs was halved. The new fee is a minimum of $500 million, down from $1 billion for each license. The sites will be selected this year.
- Thousands of families were added to a subsidized child care program, which can now earn as much as 300% above the federal poverty rate.
- Free nondriver identification cards for formerly incarcerated people to help them secure employment, housing and other needs once out of prison.
- Allowing an “X” to be marked under gender questions on “all applicable forms and data systems” in state government.
- Programs to combat climate change, including a tax credit for installing geothermal energy systems and $500 million to help school districts buy electric-powered buses by 2027.
- Creating more election districts on college campuses to encourage students to vote from their campus addresses.
- Extending state funding of the “Brownfields” programs, which offer incentives for companies to clean and re-use polluted industrial sites, seen as a critical need on Long Island and in Buffalo. “We’re taking back our industrial past and looking to the future,” said Sen. Timothy Kennedy (D-Buffalo).