Proposals appeal to local legislators on both sides
ALBANY Capital Region lawmakers from across the political spectrum found a lot to like in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s State of the State address — an agenda that included everything from the establishment of universal pre-kindergarten to eliminating corporate taxes for upstate manufacturers.
The Democratic governor entering the last year of his first term drew praise from area Republicans and Democrats alike for proposals to provide roughly $161 million in tax relief to the manufacturing sector and reduce the corporate tax rate to the lowest percentage since 1968. Others lauded his call for consolidation of municipal services, something they believe will help further reduce the tax burden on state residents.
State Sen. Kathy Marchione, R-Halfmoon, said Cuomo appeared to borrow from the Republican platform with some of his proposals. She praised Cuomo’s proposals to reform the estate tax and to guide a certain percentage of state contracts toward small businesses owned by disabled veterans.
“All of these are welcome ideas that I’ve championed,” she said.
Assemblyman Phil Steck, D-Colonie, was pleased with Cuomo’s proposals for tax relief and municipal consolidation. One proposal would encourage local governments to share services by freezing property taxes for two years.
“It’s good that was a focus of his speech,” Steck said. “Consolidation of municipal services goes hand in hand with property tax relief.”
Steck did, however, question how the state will raise enough revenue to compensate for reduced taxes. He said Cuomo’s address didn’t seem to spell out exactly how the state will pay for the tax reductions.
“It is important to raise revenue if you’re going to give municipalities relief,” he said. “That subject was left unaddressed.”
Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, D-Rotterdam, said Cuomo’s focus on tax relief is the right message at a time when many of his constituents are struggling. He welcomed proposals aimed at reducing the burden of taxes in New York.
“It’s long overdue. We need to help homeowners,” Santabarbara said. “It’s time to cut taxes. We’ve heard it for years, and now we’re finally doing something about it.”
State Sen. James Seward, R-Milford, said Cuomo’s outline for 2014 seems aimed at improving the state’s economic development climate, even if he painted the picture with a broad brush. He called on the governor to also offer mandate relief to municipalities, many of which are already slashing expenses and seeking efficiencies.
“Instead of calling out local governments for spending too much, we need to provide them with real relief that will help improve their fiscal state,” he said.
State Sen. Cecilia Tkaczyk, D-Duanesburg, also offered praise for Cuomo’s agenda, lauding his efforts to “hold the line” on property taxes and reduce the cost of doing business upstate. She said Cuomo’s Global New York initiative will aid small farms in her district by increasing agricultural exports to foreign countries.
“I have long believed that increasing our exports of produce, dairy and other agricultural products to foreign countries has great potential, and I am looking forward to working with the governor and supporting this initiative any way possible,” she said.
Tkaczyk, a former school board president, also was encouraged to hear Cuomo’s goal of improving the quality of the state’s public education system, including a bond act that would pump $2 billion into modernizing public school classrooms and a proposal to implement universal pre-kindergarten across the state.
“Of course, the devil is in the details, and I’m anxious to see exactly how the expansion of pre-K will be funded and if it will be sustainable into the future,” she said.
Cuomo’s plans for education drew a mixed response from school officials and the state’s teachers unions. Some were left wondering whether local districts will get stuck paying for another mandate through pre-K.
“A lot of these programs start, get initiated and then they get dropped [from the state budget],” said Christine Crowley, superintendent of the Duanesburg Central School District. “Then the district has to pick up the cost.”
Richard Iannuzzi, president of New York State United Teachers, was unimpressed by Cuomo’s proposal to offer a $20,000 stipend for high-performing educators, when such merit-based incentives haven’t historically reflected better student achievement. He also questioned how Cuomo could omit mention of the Common Core rollout, which has stirred ire and confusion throughout the state.
“It is troubling that the most important issue facing students, parents and teachers today — the botched implementation of the Common Core and the need for a moratorium on high-stakes consequences for students and teachers — was absent in the speech,” he said. “With all that is on our plate now in public education, to be distracted by a failed concept like merit pay would be a serious mistake.”
Cuomo received praise for creating a time frame for siting four live table-gaming casinos approved by voters in November. The governor announced the siting commission headed by Hobart and William Smith Colleges President Mark Gearan will issue a request for applications in March, with the expectation of receiving them back by June and making a decision on sites by fall.
Saratoga Casino and Raceway intends to apply for the casino slated for the Capital Region. Destination Saratoga, an advocacy group supporting the racino, released a statement applauding Cuomo’s “aggressive timeline” for expanded gaming.