By Assemblyman Kevin Byrne
For the past several months, I participated in numerous committee meetings and budget hearings to advocate for more responsible state policy that would put taxpayers first and support essential services that assist public health and safety, as well as our schools, seniors, veterans and first responders.
In the end, despite our best efforts to work collaboratively with colleagues from across the aisle, one-party rule still stuck taxpayers with a whopping $212 billion budget. Astoundingly, New York’s budget is now larger than the budgets of Texas and Florida combined.
The truth is that most of the omnibus spending bills which appropriated billions of dollars in taxpayer money were voted on before a final budget deal was agreed to or submitted in writing for legislators to review. This type of process continues to be reckless, irresponsible and quite simply fails New Yorkers, which is why I ultimately voted against the state budget in its entirety.
In typical Albany fashion, the budget process lacked transparency. Shockingly, the most transparent part of the closed-door budget negotiations may have occurred from when the Democratic Conference’s infighting about an Excluded Workers Fund found its way into the press. The fund, which was ultimately included in the budget, provided $2.1 billion in taxpayer money to unemployed illegal immigrants.
Under this new program, recipients will be eligible to receive a lump sum of up to $15,600, and can even be eligible to receive up to $3,200 without providing paperwork demonstrating loss of income.
New York’s unemployment rate is already second worst in the country, and the Department of Labor still has serious issues processing unemployment claims. While so many of our law-abiding citizens continue to struggle with loss of income and an inability to receive unemployment, it shouldn’t be a surprise that spending an additional $2.1 billion for illegal immigrants on unemployment would be highly controversial.
Expensive new programs like this cost money, and to fund them we saw record-setting tax hikes included in the budget despite our state receiving over $23 billion in federal aid from the American Rescue Plan. Sen. Charles Schumer said the aid alone eliminated the state’s previous deficit. The federal aid should have also eliminated any need for tax hikes or budget cuts, but Albany politicians simply couldn’t help themselves.
The new tax hikes include increased tax rates on businesses and on high-income earners who already pay disproportionately more in income taxes. In fact, the top 1 percent of income earners already account for 40 percent of the state’s personal income tax.
New York continues to lead the nation in out-migration, and the pandemic has only exacerbated our state’s affordability crisis. These tax hikes will only increase the likelihood of tax-migration and limit the opportunity to create new wealth, jobs and economic growth.
Not surprisingly the state still managed to double down on its reputation of picking winners and losers by allocating $1.5 billion from settlement funds for the governor to spend at his discretion, $385 million in additional pork barrel, $370 million for the governor’s special economic development programs and $42.5 million for marketing programs like StartUp New York. That’s in addition to the state continuing its $420 million special tax credit for the Hollywood film industry.
Adding insult to injury, the budget afforded New York City employees an option for early retirement but specifically excluded other counties in the state from participating. This type of option, if carefully implemented, could have helped save money for county governments throughout the state.
Counties will also be hurt by the state continuing its practice of unfairly diverting millions of dollars in county sales tax revenue from county governments to fund the state’s own budget needs.
This year’s budget inappropriately spent billions of our tax dollars and it will undoubtedly cause additional hardship for our state down the road.
All that said, it’s worth noting there is always some good mixed in with the bad. I was pleased to see that some of the items I advocated for made its way into the final package, including but not limited to:
- The Adult Cystic Fibrosis Assistance Program that was indefensibly eliminated in last year’s budget during the pandemic was partially restored at $375,000. However, it’s still worth noting the budget didn’t restore the program permanently, and is only funding the program at about half of what it did in previous years.
- The legislature was able to successfully restore and expand funding to $5 million for the PFC Joseph P. Dwyer Peer to Peer Program. It was previously cut by Gov. Cuomo in his proposed budget. The Dwyer program, started by Rep. Lee Zeldin, is a tremendous program for our military veterans, and is deserving of expanded funding.
- Capital spending to support local transportation and infrastructure like roads, bridges and culverts did receive a welcomed boost in funding through the state’s CHIPS ($538.1 million), PAVE-NY ($150 million), Extreme Winter Recovery ($100 million) and Bridge NY ($100 million) programs. This type of investment benefits all New Yorkers.
- Likewise, the state’s Environmental Protection Fund received $300 million to help preserve our open spaces, keep our air clean and protect our drinking water.
- A proposed pause of the middle-class income tax cut that was previously passed by the Legislature in 2016 was soundly rejected.
There’s no reason our state couldn’t have funded all these important programs while still decreasing the tax burden and doing more to pay down the state’s debt. Albany continues to have a massive spending problem, and it’s only been amplified under one-party rule.
We still have many challenges ahead. Some were caused by the costly sacrifices we’ve been forced to endure due to the pandemic. Others were caused by an incompetent government that spends tax dollars as if it were monopoly money.
I look forward to the day where I can vote on a budget that supports essential programs and does right by our taxpayers. Sadly, yet again, this year’s budget failed to do just that.
Assemblyman Kevin Byrne (R-Mahopac) represents the 94th Assembly District, which includes portions of Putnam and Westchester counties. Byrne is the ranking minority member of the Assembly Committee on Health and serves as chair of the Assembly Minority Program Committee.