By Assemblyman Will Barclay
The 2014-15 New York state budget passed again on time for the fourth year in a row and we kept state operating spending at under 2% growth. The $137.9 billion spending plan contains some good news for New Yorkers but did fall short on other aspects.
The budget restores $602 million of the Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA) for school districts. I was glad to see this in the final budget bill, as this allocation directly benefits our local schools. A $2.7 billion funding cut to schools took place in 2011 when our state spending continued to be higher than revenues following the recession.
Since then, the funding has gradually increased but this year, we made a big step towards getting more funds to schools and increased school aid by $1.12 billion. In addition, I was pleased that libraries saw an increase of $1 million more than last year and that proposed funding cut that was in the Executive’s budget was rejected. Instead, libraries are funded at $86.6 million.
This budget enacted tax cuts for manufacturers.
We also raised the estate tax exemption amount from $1 million to be $5.25 million by 2017; by 2019, New York will be in line with the federal level.
Though I would have liked to have seen these changes be effective immediately, I’m glad we’re making these significant policy changes with this budget and will eventually subject fewer people to the estate tax.
Estate tax cuts are especially significant for farmers, as this reduction makes inheriting property easier.
Manufacturing tax cuts will make our state more competitive when attracting and keeping business in our region as businesses consider taxes as part of their overall cost of doing business; if these are lower, it makes it New York more attractive.
We also were able to phase out 18-A, the energy assessment utilities pay, which is passed down to all consumers. Though this wasn’t eradicated entirely this year, it is on schedule to be in 2017.
Localities in Central and Northern New York will directly benefit from a $40 million winter recovery fund.
This is a new allocation created in this budget to help localities cover expenses related to pothole repair. This is on top of a $75 million increase we saw last year to (Consolidated Highway Improvement Program) CHIPs.
This budget provides $27 million for local agricultural assistance programs. This too was welcome news, as the Governor’s proposed budget contained cuts to many agricultural programs.
Through negotiations, we were able to not only restore that funding but also to increase it from $21 million that was allocated year. Northern New York Agricultural Development local assistance programs as well as funding for apple growers, maple producers, berry growers, and dairy groups was restored.
Changes to Common Core were also codified in the budget. While we were not able to pass a moratorium on Common Core as I and many had hoped, we were able to put into law many of the changes proposed by the Regents and prohibit standardized testing for grades K-2.
The legislature also passed student data protection measures and required the Commissioner of Education to put in place standards and regulations that would limit time devoted to state testing in the classroom.
Finally, this budget enacts much-needed reforms to public assistance. I have pressed for these sensible measures for years and this budget finally puts limitations on how electronic benefit transfer cards are used.
Recipients will no longer be allowed to use them at liquor stores, casinos or adult-entertainment establishments.
Penalties were instituted for such businesses who accept the cards. Unfortunately, however, no penalties were instituted for recipients.
The spending planned passed in 10 separate budget bills. I voted “yes” on 8 out of the 10 bills but could not support any form of publicly-financed campaigns or commitment to funding the Affordable Care Act, which was supposed to be self-sustainable.
Although the budget did not contain the Governor’s outrageous proposal to publicly finance all state races, it did contain a compromise: This year, the State Comptroller’s race will involve public dollars. I oppose publicly-financed campaigns in any form. I fear too that this concession will pave the way for others.
I also voted against an allocation of $24 million for the Affordable Care Act. This was supposed to be self-sustainable. Unfortunately, the budget passed with this measure included and now New Yorkers will be paying for the botched federal mandate.
The budget also fails to provide mandate relief. At the same time that the state required localities to stick to a 2% tax cap, which was a good measure, we have not given them the tools to do so by cutting state mandates such as Medicaid, costs associated with early intervention, public assistance, and indigent defense.
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