New York State’s $156 billion budget was passed at the eleventh hour on March 31, prompting a series of statements from Orange County leaders about the budget making process and its results.
Assemblyman Karl Brabenec (R,C,I-Deerpark) slammed the budget negotiations as “completely exclusive and secretive,” referring to the confidential negotiations between the governor and legislature leaders that lasted well into the night.
“The bills were released to the public mere hours before voting, and virtually all debate was done under cover of darkness,” he said in a statement. “No ethics reform in the budget and the nature of the closed-door process proves Albany isn’t prepared to police itself.”
He did, however, applaud lawmakers for including tax breaks for the middle class (families making between $40,000 and $300,000) starting in 2018, $25 million toward fighting opioid addiction, and farm workforce tax credits.
County Executive Stephen Neuhaus thanked the governor for including $40 million in grants for five New York airports (announced in January), extending for another two years the Hire-A-Vet Credit (also announced in January), and the funding for infrastructure.
“I applaud Governor Cuomo for allocating funds for important infrastructure and transportation projects, including the Pave NY/Bridge NY program, which will receive $800 million over the next four years for state highway, road and bridge repair projects,” Neuhaus said. “Without infrastructure, we don’t have economic development.”
Assemblyman James Skoufis (D-Woodbury) touted the new minimum wage, which for the upstate region would mean an increase from $8 to $12.50 by 2021. This is a compromise from the $15 per hour Governor Cuomo and others were pushing for, and only in New York City will businesses be required to pay a minimum of $15 within three years.
“Currently, taxpayers subsidize large corporations like Walmart due to their low wages that keep employees dependent on public assistance programs,” said Skoufis. “[This will] help countless families achieve economic independence and self-sufficiency while saving taxpayer dollars.”
Orange County Chamber of Commerce President and CEO, Lynn Cione, along with Brabenec who called it a “job-killing” piece of legislation, spoke out against increasing the wage, citing the hardship to local, small businesses.
Cione said they had been lobbying against the minimum wage hike and would be working with elected officials on other bills favorable to the Orange County business community.
“At the top of the list is mandate relief to reduce the enormous financial burden the State imposes on our county and municipal governments through the imposition of unfunded mandates,” she wrote.
Also affecting the business community was the addition of paid family leave.
Starting in 2018 New York workers will become eligible to take paid time off to care for a new child or sick relative. The benefit, which will top out at 12 weeks, will be funded by worker payroll contributions that will cost from $0.70 a week up to $1.40. Benefits will start at 50 percent of an employee’s average weekly wage, capped at half the statewide average weekly wage, rising to 67 percent in 2021.
The budget also contains $24.8 billion for public schools, an increase of $1.5 billion, and eliminates a recession-era claw back of some aid that hit suburban districts the hardest, something both Brabenec and Skoufis applauded.
It also provides greater help for schools in poor districts, and spending on charter schools will go up $430 per pupil. There’s no tuition hike in the budget for the State University of New York or the City University of New York, which Skoufis had been lobbying for.
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AP contributed to this report.