Budget ‘Robs Peter to Pay Paul’

By Assemblyman Will Barclay
Last week, I talked about the State Budget in this column and this week, I wanted to expand on some elements in the budget. We passed a $141.2 billion spending plan before the April 1 deadline but it wasn’t without its problems.

One of the biggest problems for me was the “sweeps” that took place. While “sweeping” is nothing new to New York, this year the budget used a bigger broom and swept more money from various funds into the general fund.

When taxes are collected for a certain purpose, they should be used for that purpose.

When money is not used as intended, it’s referred to as a sweep. This is inherently problematic.

One of the biggest sweeps involved the State Insurance Fund of $2 billion.

This is tied to the Worker’s Compensation Fund. Employers are required to purchase Worker’s Compensation Insurance to cover on-the-job employee injuries.

The State Insurance Fund is the leading provider of worker’s compensation insurance.

In an attempt to lower premiums and oust our state’s dubious honor of having the highest worker’s compensation rates in the nation, reforms were passed this year that created more equitable rates for employers.

These were good measures and ones that businesses pushed for.

However, at the same time, leaders swept $2 billion in overpayments that businesses made, and put it in the general fund.

If we are trying to improve our business climate, wouldn’t it make more sense to return the money to the businesses that overpaid?

The budget also swept money from the Power Authority collected from energy bills to the tune of $90 million to help balance the budget as well.

Sweeps typically occur from this fund as well. This year, the budget swept even more from this fund.

Investment in More Auditors

Rather than trim spending or refund money to businesses and all of us who pay for our utilities, our leaders in Albany are constantly trying to figure out ways to find more money.

This budget allocates $9.1 million more than last year to hire 200 additional auditors and collectors.

I’ve heard stories from constituents of our Department of Tax and Finance using questionable and aggressive tactics to collect taxes owed.

By having more auditors, presumably there will be more taxes collected.

While businesses should follow the law and pay taxes owed, and our state has a responsibility to enforce tax laws, this plan seems aggressive.

Instead of penalizing businesses, we should create incentives and partner with them – not make them feel unwelcome or as if they’re doing something wrong.

No business is comfortable with an audit.

While I understand the need for random audits, allocating that much more money to pay for that many more auditors makes me wary of our state’s intentions and does not sound like our state is Open for Business, as the current state advertising motto suggests.

It sounds like we’re, once again, looking for revenues to help with our spending problem.

There were other changes brought by the budget I wanted to make you aware of.

Gun law changes

The state passed the SAFE Act earlier this year. I voted against it, as it did little to make our communities safer and, instead, penalized law-abiding citizens and caused confusion.

We made ourselves known on Feb. 28, as thousands gathered in Albany to rally against the bill.

Unfortunately, the law will not be repealed in the near future.

There are lawsuits pending which question whether the law infringes on Constitutional rights.

For now, these were the marginal changes that were made with the budget, which allocates $27 million just for a pistol permit database:

Suspend the requirement that only magazines that can contain 7 rounds or less can be purchased.

Going forward, magazines can be purchased that can contain up to 10 rounds. Magazines may only contain up to 7 rounds regardless of their capacity, unless you are at an incorporated firing range or competition, in which case you may load your magazine to its full capacity.

Active law enforcement continues to be exempt from the prohibitions on the possession of high capacity magazines, assault weapons, and magazines containing more than 7 rounds, as well as the law prohibiting weapons on school grounds.

Ensuring that local safe storage laws are not preempted by the SAFE Act.

For instance, if localities have previously developed firearm storage laws, the SAFE Act would not supersede local laws related to firearm storage.

Basic STAR exemption changes

Beginning in 2014, people with Basic STAR exemption – the state’s School Tax Relief program – will have to reapply.

This budget puts the State Department of Tax and Finance in charge of applications, rather than having people apply at their local assessors’ office.

Primarily, this change was made to prevent fraud.

There were several cases in which property owners, who owned property in two different municipalities, applied for the STAR exemption for more than one property.

The STAR rebate is only intended to be used for the property owners’ primary residence.

The state is expected to mail out letters to notify all residents who are currently enrolled in the Basic STAR program.

For those with Enhanced STAR, seniors apply annually and must meet certain income requirements.

That process will not change. Only those with Basic STAR will be affected.

I’ve said it before and will continue to say this: Albany does not have a revenue problem.

We have a spending problem.

Until we start to look at ways where we can consolidate programs and further save taxpayer dollars, we will continue to have gaps and our leaders will continue to look for dollars to fill those gaps.

If you have any questions or comments on this or any other state issue, or if you would like to be added to my mailing list or receive my newsletter, please contact my office.

My office can be reached by mail at 200 N. Second St., Fulton, NY 13069, by e-mail at [email protected] or by calling (315) 598-5185.

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