Budget proposal takes on opioids, environment, consolidation
By Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong
Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s latest budget and policy proposals call for increased funding to fight the opioid crisis, tax savings through local consolidation, and more attention to education and infrastructure upgrades, including expansion of Stewart International Airport in Newburgh and a new Hudson Line station at Woodbury Common.
The governor outlined his agenda in his State of the State Address and draft 2019 state budget, which he unrolled in presentations throughout January.
The proposed budget calls for state spending of $168.2 billion; about 60 percent would come from state operating funds and the rest from capital and federal sources. The operating fund share, $100 billion, is 2 percent higher than for 2018.
The Legislature must approve the budget and can change it before adopting a final version.
The governor said his proposed budget would continue the state’s progressive practices while “protecting taxpayers against the federal assault” of a change in tax laws that capped the deduction for state and local taxes at $10,000 annually for those who itemize, which analysts say will have a greater effect on residents of high-tax states such as New York than those elsewhere.
Cuomo said New York is exploring “restructuring options” to balance the scales, including use of charitable contributions to support government and reducing state income taxes by making them employer-paid instead of employee-paid. Despite the upheaval, he said the state continues to phase in tax cuts that, when fully implemented, will drop the rate from about 6.5 percent to 5.5 percent for those earning $40,000 to $150,000 annually, and from 6.6 percent to 6 percent for those earning $150,000 to $300,000.
Criticizing President Donald Trump’s “misguided” immigration views, Cuomo advocated legislation allowing undocumented college students access to state scholarships and endorsed the Liberty Defense Project, introduced in 2017, a public-private partnership offering legal assistance to immigrants “regardless of status.”
The draft budget provides $26.4 billion in school aid, an increase of $769 million. Likewise, it earmarks $6 million for science and engineering education and $5 million in reimbursements for courses in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
The budget allocates $186 million, up by 3 percent, to reimburse private schools for the costs of meeting state mandates. It also allots them $5 million for STEM classes.
With $7.5 billion in spending proposed for higher education, the budget continues an upward trend begun in 2012. Cuomo also called for measures to protect students from abusive lending practices and to prohibit the suspension of professional licenses from graduates who fall behind on student loan payments.
As part of his budget proposal, Gov. Andrew Cuomo called on the Legislature to:
- Increase fines for drivers who pass stopped school buses.
- Require that vehicles’ backseat passengers wear seat belts.
- Fund a study of whether New York should legalize marijuana for recreational use.
- Expand a sales-tax exemption for vending machines accepting cashless forms of payment to items costing $2 or less, from $1.50.
- Keep STAR property tax exemptions at their current level instead of increasing them by 2 percent as planned in 2019.
- Ban “lunch shaming” practices at schools, such as serving cold cheese sandwiches to students who don’t have money to pay for the meal.
- Doubling farm-to-school funding to $1.5 million. Also, increase the reimbursement that a district receives from 6 cents to 25 cents per lunch if it purchases at least 30 percent of its food from state farmers and growers.
- Double the funding, to $4 million, to subsidize Advanced Placement exams for low-income students.
- Set aside $118 million to pay the tuition of an estimated 27,000 students who attend SUNY and CUNY schools. The income eligibility threshold for the program increases to $110,000 annually for 2018-19.
- Appropriate $100 million for costs associated with raising the age of adult criminal responsibility from 16 to 17 on Oct. 1 and to 18 on Oct. 1, 2019.
- Eliminate the five-year statute of limitations for sex crimes against minors and extend the statute for civil suits from before the victim is 21 years old to 50 years from the date of the offense.
The governor proposed a surcharge of 2 cents per milligram of opioid ingredients in prescription drugs, with the revenue spent on opioid-abuse prevention and rehabilitation services. Moreover, his draft budget set aside more than $200 million to fight opioid addiction and increased funding for the Office of Alcohol and Substance Abuse Services by $26 million.
Planes, trains and autos
Cuomo proposed $11.7 billion for infrastructure improvements, such as rehabilitating 500 bridges, paving 2,000 miles of roads, completing the Mario Cuomo Bridge at Tarrytown and making repairs to the New York State Thruway.
Citing the “unfulfilled potential” of Stewart Airport, Cuomo recommended a $27 million investment by the Port Authority to build a 20,000-square foot U.S. Customs and Border Protection inspection facility for incoming international flights. He also suggested the airport change its name to New York International at Stewart Field.
Separately, Cuomo expressed hopes that a Metro-North train station could be built at the Woodbury Common shopping complex in Central Valley.
Cuomo proposed expanding prohibitions on gun possession by those convicted of domestic violence, including certain misdemeanors, or named in an order of protection. Under current law, a judge can order a person to relinquish his or her handguns; the governor’s idea extends the ban to rifles and shotguns as well.
To encourage municipal and county governments to share services and potentially reduce property taxes, Cuomo’s proposed budget provides $225 million in state grants to match any money they save. Last year, Cuomo directed counties to convene panels to devise consolidation plans; now he wants to make those panels permanent.
In 2017, Dutchess County submitted a 59-page plan outlining $27 million in potential savings from 37 projects. But Putnam County did not participate. Its county executive, MaryEllen Odell, said in January she would start the process anew.
The draft budget calls for $2.5 billion to protect water sources and assist with water infrastructure projects. It further proposes $39 million for solid-waste control; $176 million for state parks and recreation, including capital projects (and $900 million overall by 2020); $154 million for open-space programs, $21 million to address climate change; and $65 million to eradicate algae in lakes and ponds that provide drinking water or attract tourists, including Lake Carmel and Putnam Lake.
Cuomo also emphasized the state would sue the federal government if the Environmental Protection Agency adopts an “indefensible” stance and allows General Electric to stop dredging the Hudson to remove the pollutants, known as PCBs, it dumped into the river. He said “overwhelming evidence” indicates more needs to be done.
Cuomo’s draft budget and other documents can be downloaded at budget.ny.gov.