Lawmakers say on-time state budget shows efficiency
CAPITOL With three days to spare, New York has adopted its third straight on-time budget.
That hasn’t been done in 30 years, and lawmakers, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders said it shows how well state government now functions. Further proof, they said, is that the $135 billion budget holds spending increases to less than 2 percent for the third consecutive time, without hikes in taxes or fees.
“New York is coming back,” Cuomo said in a video message Friday. “New York is rising and we are building on our strengths.”
He and legislative leaders called it a family-friendly, business-friendly, and middle-class-friendly budget. Although there are no new taxes, the budget is built on extending two temporary taxes that were due to expire — an income tax surcharge on millionaires and a business tax on energy costs.
The Assembly late Thursday gave final legislative approval to the budget, and the Senate approved its bills early Wednesday. The budget was not due until Sunday, the start of the new fiscal year.
The streak of on-time budgets began after former Gov. David Paterson uncovered a new power for governors to impose their budget if the April 1 deadline is missed, leaving the Legislature with the politically untenable option of shutting down government.
Major elements include nearly $1 billion more for schools, about a 4 percent average increase, and $350 tax rebate checks that will be sent to most middle class families next year, shortly before Election Day. The minimum wage will rise to $9 an hour over three years, and employers of teenagers in part-time jobs will get a taxpayer-paid subsidy to cover most of the increase.
Businesses will get additional tax breaks including one to encourage the hiring of recent veterans.
“We accomplished a lot of things we wanted to accomplish,” said Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who had made raising the $7.25-an-hour minimum wage a priority for two years.
“This reflects an improved, more efficient process between the governor and the Legislature,” state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli said Friday.
The budget includes some one-time revenue, including $7 billion in federal recovery aid following Superstorm Sandy. And that concerns DiNapoli, who said the budget also includes several new provisions that extend the state’s reliance on public authority debt.
“New York’s debt burden is among the highest in the nation, making the goals of meeting critical infrastructure needs while remaining within the state’s debt caps more difficult,” DiNapoli said.
The budget process was criticized for continuing Albany’s tradition of closed-door negotiations among top leaders with little if any real role for rank-and-file lawmakers, who under a budget reform law were supposed to hash out spending agreements in public.
A stumble in negotiations included fixes needed to the state’s new gun control law, passed in January, which has drawn some sharp criticism from upstate communities. The budget suspends the provision that would have outlawed any bullet magazines that carried more than seven bullets, because seven-bullet magazines aren’t made. The standard is 10 bullets, but Cuomo sought to have the lowest magazine capacity in the nation.
There is no plan to set a new date for that provision because manufacturers don’t plan to make them. So now the law requires gun owners to only carry seven bullets at a time, unless they are at an authorized shooting range or shooting competition.
The law was derided by Republican Assemblyman Steven McLaughlin as “the honor system.”
“Do you think criminals are going to care about that?” he said. “I can practice defending my family with 10 rounds, but I can only defend my family with seven rounds?”