ALBANY – The new state budget will include stronger penalties for distracted driving and a requirement that all STAR property tax recipients reregister for the program as a way to crack down on fraud.
The budget, which is slowly coming together this week before full adoption on Thursday or Friday by the Assembly, is already angering several upstate business groups for its failure to lower utility taxes, a hike in the minimum wage and lack of serious relief from state-imposed mandates for localities.
“We are very disappointed with this budget agreement and with the people who negotiated it,’’ said the Buffalo Niagara Partnership in a statement Monday. “The outcome of their closed-door work not only will further erode the economy of upstate New York, but will also significantly blunt the impact of a number of the agreed-upon priorities in Gov. [Andrew M.] Cuomo’s high-profile economic initiatives, including our region’s ‘Buffalo Billion.’ No rhetorical lipstick can gloss over this unfortunate reality. It also confirms to business decision-makers around the world that the state is not yet ‘open for business.’ ”
A consortium of upstate business groups said the budget fails on a number of fronts. “Unfortunately, for upstate taxpayers and employers, the new New York looks a lot like the old New York,’’ said Unshackle Upstate in a reference to Cuomo’s public relations campaign of a “new New York.’’ “This budget is a disappointment. The reality is that New Yorkers will remain overburdened and overtaxed.’’
On a public radio show interview, Cuomo defended the budget for its tax breaks for middle-class families and funding for education. “I’m very proud of the product,” he said.
The budget increases penalties for texting while driving or talking on a cellphone without a hands-free device. Besides three penalty points for each violation, the law will now impose a maximum penalty of $150 for the first infraction, $200 for a second offense within 18 months and $400 for three or more offenses within 18 months.
“Distracted drivers jeopardize the safety of everyone on the road. They are 23 times more likely to be involved in a crash than a regular driver,’’ said Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Charles Fuschillo, a Long Island Republican.
The budget also includes a requirement that all New Yorkers who receive a break under the $3 billion STAR property tax program reregister. Officials say they are worried about fraud in the system, including property owners taking the tax break for more than one residential property.
The budget also will include a tax break for television shows that relocate to New York, a benefit the NBC network is likely to take if, as rumored, Jimmy Fallon takes over the Tonight Show next year and moves it to Manhattan. There are also additional tax breaks for movies shot in certain upstate counties, including Western New York; the tax credit program is capped at $5 million annually and the break does not kick in until 2015.
The final budget will include, according to the “revenue’’ bill that was printed shortly before midnight Sunday, a provision allowing the state to suspend drivers’ licenses of New Yorkers who are delinquent on more than $10,000 of state taxes.
Many tax breaks do not kick in for a year or more. A tax deduction for businesses that hire veterans does not become effective until the 2015 tax year. And a tax credit for certain families will not kick in – with checks in the mail – until mid-October 2014, or just a few weeks before Cuomo and lawmakers are up for re-election. The $350 check will go to taxpayers who have at least one dependent child under the age of 17 on the last day of the taxable year and had an adjusted gross income of between $40,000 and $300,000.
The budget also includes restoration of $3 million statewide for Operation SNUG, a program aimed at reducing gang and gun violence using neighborhood outreach and public awareness campaigns. The program has not been funded since 2009, said Sen. Tim Kennedy, a Buffalo Democrat.
“It is one of those programs with a statistical demonstration of working,’’ Kennedy said.
How much school districts will be getting in state aid will not be known until later this week.