ALBANY – The Assembly on Thursday night gave final passage to a $141.3 billion state budget.
The fiscal plan would fund a stadium rehabilitation project for the Buffalo Bills, keep aid to localities flat, sharply cut programs for developmentally disabled people, raise the minimum wage and authorize more than $2 billion in tax breaks over five years for the film and television industry doing work in New York.
The new fiscal plan also cuts funding for a variety of public health programs, suspends driver's licenses of people who owe the state at least $10,000 in back taxes and gives $350 checks to taxpayers with children and household incomes of between $40,000 and $300,000 – a check that will first be delivered in the fall of 2014 just prior to election day for Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and lawmakers.
The Assembly finished passage of the budget shortly before midnight Thursday. This marks the third straight year the budget was adopted by the April 1 start of the new fiscal year.
But while timeliness was being hailed by Cuomo and lawmakers, fiscal watchdogs raised warning flags about a budget they say has misplaced priorities.
“This is not the new New York. This is the old New York,” said Assemblyman Tony Jordan, a Washington County Republican who railed against a budget that gives another $420 million in tax breaks in the coming year to the film and television industry, which is half of all the new business tax cuts approved in the 2013 budget.
E.J. McMahon, director of the Empire Center for New York State Policy, a conservative think tank, said there is a sharp rise in raids of state authority funds to help fund the budget's general fund, a $1 billion net increase in borrowing, a $2 billion net tax increase over the next five years, a pension borrowing plan for localities that he says merely pushes off current costs to future taxpayers and the “bald-face political move” of giving the $350 tax rebate checks during the fall 2014 elections.
He termed as “pretty indefensible'' the $54 million in state funds to help renovate the Buffalo Bills stadium to keep them in Western New York – a funding pot that has gained increasing criticism statewide as the budget was coming together over the past couple weeks.
The Cuomo administration dismissed the criticisms and said when the next two years are looked at – instead of the longer term outlook taken by watchdogs – there will be a net decrease in overall taxes of $2 billion.
The administration also has been touting that achieving another on-time budget helps to erase images of Albany as the center of dysfunction.
But the budget has been criticized by a number of groups that have been loyal to Cuomo in his first two years, notably the business community.
They say the budget's failure to end a surcharge as scheduled – instead of just phasing it out over the next three years – will drive up the electricity bills of businesses and consumers across the state.
In New York City, a business group is sharply critical of Cuomo agreeing to extend a tax on millionaires – a tax that was to have expired before Cuomo broke a campaign promise by raising it in December 2011.
That tax is worth $2 billion a year to Albany. And they say the three-stage minimum wage hike from $7.15 to $9 by January 2016 will kill jobs.
“I think it's great we did the minimum wage. It helps so many people,” countered Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Manhattan Democrat.
But the budget also will help cover the costs of the wage hike for businesses. The state will pay 75 cents per hour per eligible employee when the wage goes to $8 in January and then up to $1.35 per hour per employee by 2016 for firms paying the minimum wage to workers between the age of 16 and 19 who are students. Groups on both the left and right have sharply criticized the provision as a wasteful giveaway that could end the jobs of minimum wage earners who are older than 19.
The more than $140 billion budget includes a $1 billion increase for the state's public schools, taking the total state education aid pot to $20.8 billion. It includes $27 million for a new gun registration database as part of January's new gun-control law and maintains funding for about a dozen cities, including Buffalo, for a youth employment program.
The State Senate passed its final budget bill just before sunrise Wednesday.
The Assembly sought to squeeze its work into one day Thursday during and around Christian and Jewish holidays.