If, in the introduction to his state budget address on Tuesday, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo was attempting to tamp down expectations, then he was on the right track. This appears, on first look, to be as vanilla a budget as the State Legislature has seen in years. And that’s a compliment.
In another year of continuing economic weakness, Cuomo has presented a budget that closes a $1.3 billion gap in this year’s budget, limits the growth of state spending, doesn’t raise taxes, supports education and helps municipalities cope with an expensive “pension bubble,” in effect by borrowing against the savings they will see when the new, lower-cost Tier VI program takes hold.
Overall spending in the $142.6 billion budget is up significantly – 5.3 percent – but those figures include $6 billion in federal money for Hurricane Sandy relief and funds to pay for a federal health insurance program the state will administer. The portion of the budget funded by state taxpayers will rise only 1.6 percent, a rate of growth lower than that of inflation.
The budget leaves tax rates alone, but looks for revenue in other ways, including limits on what wealthy people can claim as charitable deductions and a $24 million tire waste fee. Other revenues will come from $7 million in “loophole closings,” expansion of the Quick Draw lottery game and a proposal to add seven new casinos in the state, though not this year.
Aid to education would increase an average of 4.4 percent, but as usual, the amount varies greatly by district. For example, the Lewiston-Porter district would see its aid decrease by 4.55 percent, while Cheektowaga-Sloan’s would rise by 8.72 percent. Buffalo’s aid to education would increase by 2.15 percent. Districts will probably end up with more money, because it is rare for the Legislature not to seek to increase aid to education during budget negotiations.
While not specifically a state spending issue, the budget also includes Cuomo’s pitch to increase New York’s minimum wage to $8.75 from $7.25 an hour. It seems likely to pass, and while it is a big increase – about 21 percent – it would be the first increase in the state’s minimum wage in several years. While Senate Republicans generally oppose an increase in the minimum wage, their influence in the Senate has been diminished and Senate co-leader Dean Skelos, a Long Island Republican, noted that Cuomo’s plan not to index the wage to inflation makes it “a lot easier” to support.
For Western New York, the budget includes another $100 million in Cuomo’s “Buffalo billion” pledge from last year. The money includes $75 million for capital spending and $25 million in tax breaks to attract and retain businesses.
He also renewed the state historic tax credit, though only at the current rate of $5 million per project, rather than the $12 million sought in legislation last year, and which developers in Buffalo and elsewhere feel would encourage rehabilitation of larger projects. Cuomo’s proposal is better than allowing the credit to expire, but as the New York State economy improves, supporters should be prepared to argue again for the higher limit.
The budget also includes the previously announced $60 million to keep the Buffalo Bills from moving. “For $60 million, the Bills better win this year, my friends,” Cuomo said on Tuesday. “Talk about performance funding.”
We couldn’t have said it better.