State Sen. Betty Little and State Assemblyman Dan Stec, both Republicans from Queensbury, presented a legislative update recently to a gathering in Glens Falls. Soon after the 2014-15 state budget agreement was reached early this week, they expressed their reactions to its various provisions.
Less than an hour before the start of the new fiscal year on April 1, the state legislature passed the 2014-15 state budget.
Although Gov. Andrew Cuomo characterized the budget was a “grand slam” that would “build on the state’s progress over the past three years in boosting the economy,” state and local legislative leaders offered mixed reactions.
Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos praised how Republicans and Democrats worked in a bipartisan effort on the budget, but Assembly GOP Leader Brian Kolb sounded more critical, saying the budget agreement “fell short” and reflected “missed opportunities.”
Spending on Education was controversial, spurring hours of debate over funding for statewide full-day pre-kindergarten, charter schools and the new Common Core testing standards. Overall school aid funding was increased by $1.1 billion.
The budget agreement also features a $2 billion school technology bond act, subject to approval by voters in November.
Legislators spent hours debating public financing for political campaigns while people picketed for reform outside on the Capitol steps. The budget includes a pilot program for public campaign finance — involving only this year’s State Comptroller race. Public advocacy groups, concerned about the influence of lobbyists and wealthy campaign contributors, said the program didn’t go far enough, and that public financing should be instituted for all statewide offices.
Also approved was raising the threshold of the state’s estate tax, allowing citizens to pass more assets down to their heirs without state taxes. Exemptions from New York’s estate taxes would rise from $1 million to $2.06 million immediately and up to $5.25 million in 2017. Cuomo had campaigned for the change, noting that thousands of New Yorkers now move to Florida so they can avoid estate taxes.
Also approved was a tax relief plan that helps homeowners whose local governments keep spending within the state tax cap the first year and enact cost-saving measures the following year.
The budget agreement also would also cut manufacturing enterprises’ tax rates to zero.
Assemblyman Dan Stec (R-Queensbury) said in a prepared statement that the budget “has more positives than negatives.”
He said he was “particularly disappointed” that the budget did not go far enough in terms of restoring traditional levels of school funding reduced by the Gap Elimination Adjustment imposed by the state in 2010.
Stec also said he was happy with the tax relief measures, but the thought they didn’t go far enough in reducing the existing tax burden.
“Despite some good provisions in the budget that will help our district, this year’s budget fails to address the state’s ongoing contributions to our high property taxes,” he said, noting that the New York State has some of the highest taxes in the nation.
“Our state continues to have a tax climate that is unfair to businesses, which results in slowed economic development, especially upstate,” he said, noting that he will continue to fight for lasting tax relief for middle-class families.
State Sen. Betty Little (R-Queensbury) said she appreciated the moderation in the Gap Elimination Adjustment, but had sought more state aid for upstate schools.
Little also said she appreciated the boosted state aid for local road repair, as well as the tax-cut provisions.
“I am pleased with the extra funding to help municipalities fix roadways damaged by the harsh winter — and tax relief for businesses and homeowners to help spur growth.
She said that she was happy to see the inclusion of the modest tax credit that helps upstate theaters, helping keep them competitive with venues in other states.
She also said she was particularly pleased with the allocation of $500,000 for a new lyme and tick-borne illness prevention and treatment program, $100,000 for a pilot program to develop a healthy parenting and mentoring program to address child abuse, new funding for invasive species eradication and small grants to support apple and maple syrup producers and other agriculture initiatives.
“Spending growth is once again held to a 2 percent cap and the budget is adopted on-time,” Little said in a prepared statement. “It comprises a wide-range of priorities reflecting the diversity of the state.”