The 2019-2020 state budget was a mixed bag for upstate, legislators said Monday.
Good items like making the property tax cap permanent were included. However, the budget ignored local issues such as infrastructure funding.
“This budget looks like it was drafted, written and crafted for New York City,” said Assemblyman Dan Stec, R-Queensbury, who voted against it.
The budget would divert sales tax money to help fund the Metropolitan Transit Authority, according to Stec. He said the budget looks out for criminals and illegal immigrants, including $27 million to fund tuition for children born to people who entered the country illegally.
The budget raises taxes next year by over a billion dollars, according to Stec.
“You’ve got the millionaire’s tax extension. You’ve got new real estate taxes, car rentals, opioid taxes,” he said.
He added that this is just making New York’s reputation as a high-tax state even worse.
Stec said he is disappointed there was no increase in CHIPS (Consolidated Local Street and Highway Improvement Program) funding. In addition, the state cut a separate pot of money, $65 million, that was used for road repairs because of the winter weather.
Cuomo proposed to cut aid to municipalities funding by $59 million. After some pushback, he proposed that the counties could use some of the money from the internet sales tax to replace the revenue cut by the state.
Stec said the tax cap has worked because it has slowed the growth of taxes. However, putting additional mandates on local governments and taking away revenue sources is just going to make it harder for them to control taxes.
Assemblyman Carrie Woerner, D-Round Lake, said that of the five budgets she has voted on, this one was most “unbalanced” in terms of meeting the needs of the entire state.
“I was very disappointed that the capital budget did not address the real infrastructure needs with respect to our roads and bridges,” she said.
In addition, she said that capital funding for county fairs was left out of the budget and $1 million was cut for Cornell Cooperative Extension research programs.
Woerner said the state was facing a fiscal challenge with income receipts being down.
“There was less money to go around. I do feel like agriculture in particular took a larger hit than other sections of the budget,” she said.
State Sen. Betty Little, R-Queensbury, said there was some talk about additional funding for capital projects being awarded after the budget process.
Prison closures, campaign finance
Little said she voted no on the budget because there were too many unknowns, too many taxes and creating of “a lot of commissions to make decisions instead of making decisions in the Legislature.”
The Legislature granted the authority to close up to three prisons, and the decision is Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s to make. Little said she is concerned about closure of more prisons upstate.
“The ones that have been closed are empty. There is no economic development,” she said.
Another unknown is exactly how a public campaign finance system will work. A total of $100 million in funding was allocated. Stec said he opposed the establishment of a commission to implement the system because he believes taxpayer money could be better spent. He also has an issue that seven of the nine-member commission is to be appointed by Democrats.
“And whatever nine people come up with is going to have the force of law unless we override,” he said.
Woerner also did not like appointing another commission to deal with campaign finance.
Little said she had an issue with the plastic bags ban. She said it is now up to individual counties to decide if they want to impose a fee for paper bags. If they opt in, then the retailer has to charge for them and the money goes into the Environmental Protection Fund.
Audubon New York was among the environmental organizations praising the ban on single-use plastic bags, which would take effect next March.
“Birds are facing many threats and plastic bags should not be one of them,” said Erin McGrath, policy manager, in a news release. “A ban on single-use plastic bags will reduce the amount of plastic pollution in our oceans and waterways and prevent entanglement and accidental ingestion by coastal and marine birds.”
Environmental groups praised the additional funding in the budget for environmental initiatives, including $300 million for the Environmental Protection Fund and another $500 million for clean water infrastructure projects. Maureen Cunningham, senior director for Clean Water for Environmental Advocates of New York, said much more is needed to tackle some $80 billion worth of infrastructure projects.
“The drinking water of millions of New Yorkers remains at risk until we invest more,” she said in a news release.
Also included as part of the Environmental Protection Fund budget is $250,000 in new funding for the Adirondack Diversity Initiative, which is a volunteer-coalition of organizations and people who are developing strategies to help the Adirondack Park be welcoming and inclusive for visitors, seasonal residents and permanent residents.
The funding can be used to hire or contract for a diversity coordinator.
“ADI knows that a more inclusive Adirondack Park will benefit everyone. The park was created for the benefit of all New Yorkers. Everyone should feel like they belong here,” said William Janeway, executive director of the Adirondack Council, in a news release.
Unshackle Upstate praised the implementation of the permanent property tax cap and the fact that the expansion of the requirement to require higher prevailing wages on all projects that take public money was excluded.
The advocacy group said the budget has “several new onerous mandates and billions of dollars in new taxes, fees and assessments that will further burden business and taxpayers at a time when they can least afford it.”
Sen. Daphne Jordan, R-Halfmoon, called it a “bad budget” with $1.4 billion in new taxes this year and $4.6 billion in new taxes next year.
“The Democrats’ budget was full of new taxes on internet purchases, shopping bags, prescription drugs, energy and a new commuter tax. In addition, their plan imposes more mandates to drive up local taxes, gives $27 million to illegal immigrants for free college tuition and included a radical new plan to reduce sentences for illegal immigrants who commit crimes, for the sole purpose of helping them avoid deportation,” she said in a news release.
Stec expressed his frustration with the whole process, in which he was voting on bills at 5 a.m. Monday after five hours of debate beginning just before midnight Sunday.
“It’s not really great government that three people can come out of a room and say we have an agreement and we haven’t debated the bills, read the bills or printed the bills,” he said.