Assembly Democrats say there should be more money for schools and the environment, and major changes to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s plan to freeze property taxes. It’s all part of a one-house budget resolution, the first step in reaching agreement on a final spending plan by the end of March.
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver says Democrats have rejected Cuomo’s plan to freeze property taxes that would involve giving rebate checks to voters shortly before Election Day. Instead, he says, they're in favor of so-called circuit breakers that would provide proportionately more relief to New Yorkers who can least afford to pay their tax bills.
“We believe that it provides relief to the people who most need it throughout the state,” said Silver. “So it’s fair regionally.”
Cuomo’s plan would result in homeowners in the New York City suburbs getting a larger rebate check than many upstate communities, because property values, and property taxes are higher there. The governor’s proposal also includes a circuit breaker, but not until the third year of the plan.
Silver says Cuomo’s proposal, which relies on the cooperation of local governments and schools to keep spending under two percent in the first year, and to consolidate services in the second year, might not give a tax break to everyone. The speaker says the Assembly Democrats’ plan reduces the uncertainty.
The Assembly accepts some of the governor’s business tax cuts, and would allow the threshold for the estate tax to be raised from $1 million to over $5 million, though Democrats do not back lowering the top tax rate on estates from 16 percent down to 10 percent.
Senate Republicans, who have been long-time advocates of lowering property taxes, also think that the governor’s plan needs to be revised. The GOP and their majority partners in the Senate, the Independent Democratic Conference, are still working out details of their budget resolution. Senate GOP Leader Dean Skelos says there will be changes.
“There will be a number of modifications,” Skelos said.
The Assembly budget also increases funding for schools by an additional $402 million.
Education advocates, who held a brief demonstration outside Cuomo’s offices, say that amount is still not enough for the state’s poorest schools, who are struggling.
“It will slow down the bleeding but it won’t stop it,” said Emily Karol, with the Alliance for Quality Education.
The protesters attempted to deliver petitions asking for more state aide to Cuomo, but were told the governor was busy. This irritated the demonstrators, who pointed out that Cuomo had found the time on March 4 to speak at an outdoor rally for charter schools.
“For the 97 percent of children represented here today, he won’t even come out of his office to accept petitions,” said organizer Zakiyah Ansari, while the children and adults gathered chanted “shame.”
The Assembly also includes funding for universal pre-kindergarten programs, and adopts New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan to tax the wealthy to pay for the plan in New York City. The tax increase is opposed by Cuomo and Senate Republicans. GOP Leader Skelos says the proposal is not going anywhere.
“That was dead about two months ago,” Skelos said.
The Assembly one-house budget also increases the environmental protection fund by $10 million dollars, bringing the total up to $167 million, and offers a more expansive plan to permit medical marijuana in New York.