ALBANY — The first fully Democratic-controlled State Legislature in years was putting its stamp on a $175 billion budget Sunday, changing commuting costs, criminal trials and bail, tax payments in Nassau County, car rides, drug treatment and visits to the grocery store.
The Senate and Assembly began voting on the financial plan in the early afternoon with the goal of having it in place for Monday, the beginning of New York’s 2019-20 fiscal year.
Here is a look at highlights, odds and ends and last-minute surprises of what's in and what's out of New York’s new budget:
The plan calls for imposing tolls on drivers for entering Manhattan south of 61st Street. The level will be set by a government-appointed commission, but previous estimates put the fee for cars at more than $11.
The idea is to reduce gridlock, encourage the use of mass transit and generate money to repair the crumbling New York City subway system, as well as to help the Long Island Rail Road and Metro North commuter rail.
Lawmakers approved a plan to hike school aid 3.7 percent, or about $1 billion, bringing the overall total to $28 billion.
School Tax Relief program (STAR)
Legislators agreed with Cuomo to change how STAR works for homeowners whose household income falls between $250,000 and $500,000. Instead of seeing their STAR exemption applied up front to reduce their school tax bill, those homeowners would have to pay the full bill first, then later receive a check from the state for the equivalent savings. Cuomo officials say it will improve accountability.
Plastic bag ban, paper bag fee
Beginning in March 2020, the state will ban single-use plastic bags such as the ones used at grocery and convenience stores. Counties and cities also will have the option of imposing a five-cent fee on paper bags.
In a year, you’ll spend $26.00 on grocery bags
You’ll use 520 grocery bags
Lawmakers gave Nassau County Executive Laura Curran authorization to phase-in over five years tax changes generated by a countywide assessment. Curran had requested the authority.
But legislators rejected a related plan offered by Senate Democrats from Nassau to offer a state tax credit for homeowners who will see a tax increase from the reassessment.
Changes include setting tighter deadlines to protect defendant’s rights to a speedy trial, giving defense attorneys evidence or “discovery” materials within days of an arrest instead of months or even years as it sometimes played out, and ending cash bail for most misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies.
Another change reduces the maximum sentence for “Class A” (the most serious) misdemeanors by one day, making it 364 days. This is significant because it means that people who are in the country illegally and are convicted on that type of charge won’t immediately face deportation — whereas a 1-year sentence previously could trigger deportation proceedings.
Another provision allows the closing of three more state prisons, because of a continually decreasing inmate population.
Property tax cap
The 2 percent cap typically has been renewed every few years by popular support. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo pushed lawmakers to change the cap’s status to “permanent,” making it harder to rewrite or kill it.
Lawmakers renewed for five years the surcharge applied to individuals who earn more than $1 million annually and couples earning $2 million or more. First enacted after the 2008 stock market meltdown, the surcharge generates $4 billion a year for the state.
Cuomo and legislators are trying this one again after courts struck down a previous tax as an unconstitutional intrusion on interstate commerce. This time, it’s restructured as a fee (by weight of the prescription) and companies are allowed to pass the cost on to customers.
Tax credits for movies
Lawmakers renewed the state’s film tax-credit program. It costs New York about $420 million annually — the single-biggest business subsidy in the state, according to some analysts. Supporters say tax credits more than pay for themselves by generating even more than $420 million in economic development.
Cuomo had proposed prohibiting law enforcement from releasing booking information and mug shots from arrests unless doing so serves a public protection purpose. After some blowback, lawmakers said they changed it to apply only to mug shots; booking and arrest info would remain public.
Drug treatment stays
One provision would increase the number of days from 14 to 28 that a patient can be in a treatment program before an insurer can review the need for such services, ensuring four weeks of uninterrupted treatment.
Backseat seat belts
Under a new law, everyone in a passenger vehicle will have to wear a seat belt, not just those in the front seat.
A new law allows a person to take up to three paid hours off on Election Day to vote, as a way to offset long voting lines in some polling places.