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GLENS FALLS  The new state budget includes $450,000 for Lake George preservation projects, state Budget Director Robert Mujica announced Tuesday.

Details of how the funding can be used will be announced soon, he said.

Mujica reiterated that the $156 billion state budget includes an increase in the minimum wage to $15 an hour in phases and a new employee-funded paid family leave program, aspects that set New York apart from other states.

He said the budget continues Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s pattern of cutting taxes and encouraging local governments and school districts to control property taxes.

“Fiscal discipline has been the guiding principle of his budgets,” Mujica said in a forum on the budget that EDC Warren County organized at The Queensbury Hotel in Glens Falls.

Thurman Supervisor Evelyn Wood, however, said the state’s local property tax cap is a “shell game” that uses state income tax revenue on a rebate program that pressures local government officials to stay within the tax cap of 2 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is less.

“Aren’t you just playing a shell game here?” she asked, during an audience question period after Mujica’s budget presentation.

Mujica said the property tax cap is not a mandate, but a recommendation that local government boards can override with a board vote and school districts can override with a 60 percent public vote.

“It’s not really a cap. We all know that,” he said. “The design was to just make it more difficult to override the cap.”

Wood countered that staying within the cap is required for residents to receive state property tax rebates.

“If we go over, then our people lose their rebate checks,” she said.

Mujica said no one can dispute that this year’s budget includes reductions in corporate taxes and reductions in income taxes for the middle class.

About 70 people, mostly local government officials and business leaders, attended the forum, part of a series of budget presentations various Cuomo cabinet members are making around the state this week.

Mujica said he was happy to be out of Albany.

“It was a beautiful, beautiful drive coming up here,” he said. “I’ve been locked in my office for eight weeks, so it was nice to get out and get some fresh air.”

Mujica said “discretionary funding,” which Cuomo and legislative leaders can distribute, has features that distinguish it from member items, known as pork, found in previous budgets.

This year, the funding cannot be distributed to nonprofit organizations or businesses, he said.

“These funds are really designed solely for municipal governments and infrastructure,” he said.

All projects will be made public 30 days before funding is distributed, he said.

“There’s a level of transparency there,” he said.

Mujica, responding to another question, said a list of highway and bridge construction projects to be funded will be released in about a week.

He said applications for upstate regions that did not win in last year’s upstate economic development challenge will be handled simultaneously with the state’s regular economic development council application process.

School officials appreciate that the gap elimination adjustment was fully restored in the new state budget, said Queensbury School Superintendent Douglas Huntley.

The gap elimination adjustment is an allotment that had been deducted from each school district’s aid since the 2009-10 school year to cover state revenue shortfalls.

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Follow staff writer Maury Thompson at All Politics is Local blog, at PS_Politics on Twitter and at Maury Thompson Post-Star on Facebook.


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