Hi! Fresh from Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s budget address (listen here!), how did we do? I wouldn’t say the address was exactly North Country-centric, but there were a few mentions of issues that particularly impact us. NCPR’s reporters are busily reaching out now for details and reactions on the speech, but here’s some highlights from myself, Brian, David, Sarah and the rest of the gang; just scan down to your favorite issue! You can also read the full “briefing book”, with details and numbers, here.
The governor did give us a bit of a shout out in the closing of his speech, however, talking about how the state is reclaiming a sense of pride: “You go to the North Country that felt abandoned and isolated. They weren’t even part of New York. They weren’t even relating to Albany. And it is a different feel…You turned around the feeling. You turned around the energy. You turned around the culture.”
Generally, Cuomo pointed to several investments the state’s making in the Adirondacks: $12 million for repirs to Whiteface Mountain Veterans’ Memorial Highway; $10 million for a biotech partnership at the Trudeau Institute; and $9.4 million for capital improvements at the Olympic Regional Development Authority (ORDA) facilities. More specifically…
On education (briefing book discussion)
As we know, many North Country schools are having trouble — as Sarah Harris pointed out this morning on our air, 11 of the state’s districts experiencing “significant financial stress” are in our region, and local officials were really just hoping for an increase in that would put them in more in the black than they currently are. Some early response from the Alliance for Quality Education is that Cuomo’s missed the mark on this in not directly addressing inequalities between rich and poor schools. Here’s AQE Executive Director Billy Easton: “The Governor’s budget would do nothing to help students in needy schools as they will be forced to make more classroom cuts. After four years, the Governor has totally failed to address the massive inequality in education between rich and poor schools. If this budget is enacted it will mean students will see cuts on top of cuts.”
Also, the amount of state aid Cuomo proposed at $807 million, is also well below the amount activists and legislators were calling for, $1.9 billion.
Interestingly, Cuomo did talk a fair amount about the rocky Common Core rollout, and has proposed a panel to figure out how to fix what’s wrong with it.
On taxes and local government
Gov. Cuomo earlier this month released a tax relief proposal that he returned to in this speech; he talked about a property tax freeze that would be predicated on local governments’ willingness to explore consolidation — under the plan, Cuomo said, Oneida County (for example) could save $10 million over three years. Gov. Cuomo has really railed against what he sees as excessive layers of government in the state, saying in today’s speech “it can’t be that everyone has to do everything in every government. It can’t be. It can be easier. It can be more politically advantageous, but it can’t be that there are not economies of scale. Find a way to save 1% of the levy per year for three years.”
There are also other incentives to “eliminat[e] duplicative and overlapping local governments” (briefing book), including grants and tax credits.
Here’s how that proposal described the plan (emphasis mine):
Property Tax “Circuit Breaker”
Under the property tax circuit breaker proposal, 1.9 million low- and middle-income taxpayers pay an effective real property tax rate relative to income that exceeds their income tax rate. To help these individuals and families, Governor Cuomo proposes that the State provide tax relief based on a taxpayer’s ability to pay. Households earning up to $200,000 would be eligible and the benefit would be administered as a refundable tax credit against the personal income tax with an average benefit of approximately $500. While the credit would be available statewide, in areas outside of New York City, only residents of jurisdictions that adhere to the property tax cap would qualify. This credit would be worth $1 billion in tax relief when fully phased in.
Reaction from John Whitely of the New York State Property Tax Reform Coalition on that one:
We are pleased that the Governor recognizes the importance of a property tax circuit breaker. However, individual eligibility should not be linked to the tax cap, and the proposed credit limit should be adjusted upward to make the formula equitable for those most at risk of being forced from their homes. The proposed renter credit should also be incorporated into the circuit breaker. The proposed “temporary” property tax freeze is cumbersome and of questionable benefit. Instead, the circuit breaker should be funded immediately, followed by a state commitment to fund a permanent property tax freeze through a dedicated annual state aid component available to all schools and municipalities who adhere to the tax cap.
Cuomo also mentioned eliminating the corporate tax rate (sic.) for upstate manufacturers, a proposal that he’s said would provide an additional $25 million in tax relief for upstate businesses; and he said the state has been “aggressive” on eliminating unfunded mandates.
The rooftop highway!
It was something of a surprise when Gov. Cuomo mentioned the rooftop highway/I-98 idea in his State of the State address earlier this month, and after a little digging David Sommerstein found the governor was really referring to a Canton-Potsdam bypass on Route 11 that leaves the door open on the I-98 idea. He brought it up again today, and in fact stood in front of a big slide that said “Interstate 98″ on it, and said the state would be allocating $2.5 million for a feasibility study. So that’s interesting.
Not a lot of specifics on this one in the speech, but here’s how things look according to Adirondack and Prison Time chief Brian Mann: Chateaugay and Mt. McGregor Correctional Facilities in the North Country are still on the chopping block, as total prison spending in the region drops by $8 million in this budget from last year. The prison guards’ union is planning a big rally at the end of the month, but the budget is built around the assumption of those savings.
Also, Gov. Cuomo followed up on two initiatives he proposed in the State of the State address. One is a reentry council whose goal is to help transition ex-felons back into society; the other is a committee to raise the age at which people are prosecuted as adults (New York and North Carolina re the only two states that prosecute 16-year-olds as adults.)
Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joe Martens gave his address after Gov. Cuomo finished up, and he proposed an environmental protection fund of 157 million dollars for new land purchases and clean water projects. Also new money for fish hatcheries. But this budget, according to Brian Mann, “contemplates another big hit to the DEC’s budget, a drop of $43 million statewide. That’s going to be controversial, I think, as it follows on years of deep cuts.”
So more to come on these and other aspects of the budget address…How do you think it went for us?