Gov. Andrew Cuomo released his state budget Tuesday. The $137.2 billion dollar spending plan includes more money for schools, including a phase in of funding for universal pre-kindergarten programs. It would also freeze property taxes for two years -- if local governments cooperate.
The governor’s budget, which includes a 3.1 percent increase in school aid, a two-year property tax freeze and phased-in business tax cuts, offers something for everyone in a year where Cuomo and all 213 members of the legislature are up for reelection.
“It’s not a package that’s been put together to provoke,” Cuomo said. “It’s a package that’s been put together to pass.”
Cuomo offered more details of a $2 billion education bond act to go before voters in November. It would, in part, pay for better Internet access and iPads. And Cuomo announced a plan for universal pre-kindergarten in New York state, to be phased in over the next five years and worth $1.5 billion when it's fully funded.
“The state will pay for it, and be proud to pay for it,” said Cuomo, to applause.
Cuomo’s pre-K proposal could solve a conundrum for the governor. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio campaigned on providing universal pre-kindergarten, funded by a new tax he’s seeking on wealthy New Yorkers. Cuomo has said he does not want to raise taxes this year. By providing a funding plan, the governor could resolve the issue.
But Mayor de Blasio, speaking before the budget presentation, seemed reluctant to give up on his plan to use a dedicated tax revenue source to fund pre-K.
“I have a mandate from the people to pursue this plan,” said de Blasio. “Of course we’ll be respectful and communicative, but this is the plan that will work for the people of the city.”
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver suggests a compromise. He says perhaps pre-K could be funded in part by both sources -- state funding and an additional tax on the wealthy.
“Maybe a tax would only be needed for part of what’s overall needed,” said Silver. “We’ll have to see the plan.”
The governor also detailed his tax cut plans. New Yorkers making up to half a million dollars a year would get a credit on their income taxes if their local governments and schools hold spending to below two percent a year. They would also have to agree to consolidate services in the second year of the plan.
A cut in business taxes, including the corporate tax rate, and a lower estate tax will be phased in between now and 2017.
In fact, many of the proposals in the budget do not fully take effect for several more years; the state does not currently have enough money to pay for them all. But the governor and his budget officials believe that if they continue to hold spending to two percent a year or lower, the state will have an over $2 billion surplus in three years, enough to pay for the tax cuts, pre-kindergarten and other programs.
They say spending will only rise by 1.7 percent in the new budget.
The leader of the Republicans in the state Senate, Dean Skelos, says he would like to see the tax cuts happen even faster.
“If there are ways that we can accelerate things I think it is what we should do,” said Skelos, who says a speedier faster timetable would stimulate the economy.
The governor also called for ethics reform in his budget. He includes public campaign financing, though he did not name a dollar amount or identify a funding source. He does want $5.3 million to fund an independent enforcement unit for policing campaign violations.
Cuomo acknowledges that he’s faced resistance from the legislature to reform plans in the past, but he exhorted lawmakers to change their minds. He says the string of indictments, arrests and investigations of legislators is tarnishing everyone.
“It’s a drip, drip, drip of these negative, one off stories,” Cuomo said. “And it has to be addressed.”
And, even though it’s not exactly a spending item, the governor called for legislation to fix the troubled implementation of the new Common Core standards in schools, saying the roll out by the State Board of Regents is flawed. Cuomo also called for a ban on standardized testing of school children in kindergarten through the second grade.
The fiscal year ends March 31, and Cuomo and the legislative leaders all say they plan to pull off another on time budget.