The Putnam Examiner

Local State Leaders React to Plusses, Minuses in New Budget

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 Up against a deadline with the Passover and Easter holidays looming, the New York State Legislature squeezed through a state spending plan over the weekend that averted a possible government shutdown.

Governor Andrew Cuomo and top legislative leaders from the Assembly and Senate found common ground late last Friday that resulted in a $168 billion state budget. The budget includes a $1 billion increase for state education aid, while still closing a $4.4 billion deficit that made this year’s budget process more strenuous. New measures were passed to possibly help taxpayers avoid a new federal cap on state and local tax deductions by giving employers the option to shift to a payroll tax.

An expansive sexual harassment policy was also voted through that would end most nondisclosure agreements and mandatory arbitration when a complaint surfaces in state government. Any government worker found to have committed harassment would need to refund any taxpayer-financed payout, the law states. Companies that want state bids for business would need to develop anti-harassment policies and training.

But the budget once again left out substantive ethics reform, despite the conviction of a senior aide to Cuomo, Joseph Percoco, on corruption charges last month. Early voting reform was also left out and the Internet Fairness Act, meant to tax Internet sellers, also didn’t find its way into the final bill.

Local state lawmakers had various thoughts on the budget with all Assembly and Senate seats are up for election this year.

State Senator Terrence Murphy (R/Yorktown), in a press release, said lawmakers made tough sacrifices to ensure that budget was approved on time while preserving critical services, enhancing programs and keeping within a 2 percent tax cap. Murphy highlighted education funding and infrastructure investments included in the budget and stressed New York upheld its commitment to fight the opioid scourge by placing $245 million to help residents addicted to drugs.

“We will not back down, we will not give up, and we will continue to support our neighbors and their families,” Murphy said.

Murphy pointed out the budget included $24 million to assist local communities in Westchester County that will be affected by the closure of Indian Point in a few years. He boasted about the comprehensive sexual assault policies that were approved.

“Protecting victims of sexual harassment and assault has been on the forefront of our minds and has remained a priority throughout this legislative session,” Murphy explained. “The provisions included in this year’s budget put New York miles ahead when it comes to protecting those who have experienced such terrible acts.”

State Senator Sue Serino (R/Hyde Park), in a statement, said she supported the Senate’s rejection of $1 billion in tax and fee increases that was proposed by Cuomo and was happy to see an additional $1 billion for school aid. She voted against the final budget bill though, because it could give state lawmakers a pay raise (A commission would be set up to explore a pay bump). The budget also failed to include any of the school safety bills the Senate approved, including for School Resource Officers or mental health programs, she said.

“I cast my vote in opposition tonight to send a clear message: I am not here for a payday,” Serino said.

State Assemblyman Kevin Byrne (R/Mahopac) complained that the budget process was again filled with flaws, including a lack of transparency. He said most of the bills connected to the budget were voted on when most New York residents were asleep. The Assembly didn’t finish voting until after 4 a.m. on Saturday morning.

“We’re voting on budget bills before a budget deal is agreed to,” Byrne said. “When we’re voting on spending, we don’t know how we’re going to pay for it, we don’t know what taxes are in the deal, what taxes are outside of the deal.”

He said he’s upset an opioid manufacturer tax was included, which could eventually be passed onto consumers. While some of the money will go to fighting addiction, some of it will go to the general fund, he said.

Byrne said he was pleased new sexual harassment guidelines were put into place, but said more state leaders should have been included in the process, including Senator Andrea Stewart Cousins (D/Greenburgh), who is the Minority Senate Leader. (Cuomo and three male legislators put the policy together.) He was pleased with funding for veteran services, schools and libraries, and roads.

State Assemblywoman Sandy Galef (D/Ossining) noted this is one of the toughest budget seasons she’s been a part of because of the $4 billion deficit that needed to be closed and policies enacted by the federal government. Galef said the state put legislation to give communities the option to possibly get around the GOP tax law passed last year.

She said she was pleased with the $24 million set aside for communities affected by the Indian Point closure and noted the increase in school aid, though the Assembly wanted more money for schools.

However, she was disappointed bail reform and early voting measures didn’t make the cut in the final budget, though she noted the state legislature could get that legislation done later in the year.

“So many things dropped off the table,” Galef said.


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