Negotiations over the 2017-2018 budget were more contentious and complicated than for any other budget Gov. Andrew Cuomo has had to broker since he was elected in 2010. But at the end of the day, the $153.1-billion spending plan, when factoring in expected federal funding, includes many of the priorities he laid out at the beginning of the year.
“With this budget, New York is once again showing what responsible government can achieve,” Cuomo said in a statement announcing the deal on Friday. “The result is a budget that advances the core progressive principles that built New York: investing in the middle class, strengthening the economy and creating opportunity for all.”
Late Sunday, the state Senate passed the final bills making the budget plan final. The Assembly had finished up business earlier in the weekend.
The bills include a structured agreement giving state budget director Robert Mujica wide-ranging power to develop a new budget plan to deal with expected cuts from the federal government. President Donald Trump and congressional Republicans have called for deep cuts to many programs that could have a ripple effect on the state’s budget. Under the deal Cuomo and lawmakers struck, the legislature will have 90 days to address the proposed changes before they take effect.
As is often the case with New York State budget deals, several policy deals were also included in the plan. The state constitution allows the governor to propose these changes, leaving state lawmakers with little power to alter things. Among the initiatives put forth was a commitment to fully fundi tuition at SUNY and CUNY schools for New York students whose families make less than $125,000.
The plan is designed to be a massive tax break for the middle class and the cornerstone of a narrative the governor presented that focused on improving the lives of middle-class New Yorkers.
“This budget enacts the Middle Class Recovery Act to continue the Empire State’s upward trajectory and creates a path forward for those striving to get ahead,” Cuomo said. “By making college at our world-class public universities tuition-free, we have established a national model for access to higher education and achieved another New York first.”
As part of this narrative, the budget lowers personal income tax rates for many New Yorkers. Currently, taxpayers making between $40,000 and $150,000 pay 6.45 percent in state income tax. This budget will lower the rates to 5.5 percent when fully implemented. It also lowers the rate for taxpayers making between $150,000 and $300,000 from 6.85 percent to 6 percent over the next four years.
Some other key highlights of the spending plan include an increase in education funding of $1.1 billion, or 4.4 percent, and $50 million in added funding for charter schools.
Also included is a tax break for real estate developers who build affordable housing, known as 421a, that supporters say is necessary to incentivize developers to build low-cost housing in New York City. The budget allocates $2.5 billion for affordable housing and supportive housing initiatives as well.
The legalization of ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft for communities outside New York City, a deal to re-privatize the New York Racing Association, and an investment of $200 million to combat the growing heroin- and opioid-addiction epidemic devastating parts of the state are also part of the final deal—as is the $2.5-billion Clean Water Infrastructure Act, which focuses on improving water infrastructure and protecting the environment. A large portion of the funds will go to Long Island communities where this is a priority.
One of the final sticking points of the plan was the proposal to raise the age of criminal responsibility to 18. Currently, New York is one of two states that try 16- and 17-year-olds as adults in the criminal justice system. In the budget, the state phases in a plan through 2019 where 16- and 17-year-olds who commit nonviolent crimes will receive intervention and evidence-based treatment.
“Throughout these budget negotiations, the Assembly majority has made it clear that our goal is, and always has been, to prioritize the health and well-being of New York’s families and communities,” Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said. “Without critical support for public education, housing and water infrastructure, and workable answers to the diverse challenges affecting communities across the state, we cannot succeed.”
State Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan also praised the budget for helping address the needs of middle-class families and making the state more affordable.
“[This budget] rejects new fees and protects one of the biggest and boldest tax cuts in state history, makes the largest-ever investment in clean water, helps families better afford the high costs of college and ensures all of our schools have the resources they need to give students a high-quality education,” Flanagan said.
Senate Republicans also praised the budget for enacting reforms to workers’ compensation designed to give businesses a break and allow them to create more jobs. Their partner in the Senate, the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC), also received funding for one of its top priorities—a $10-million immigrant legal-aid fund.
“This is a budget that changes New York for the better,” Senate IDC leader Jeff Klein said. “In it we create a historic $10-million immigrant legal-aid fund to meet the urgent need of our immigrant communities. This major investment preserves the American Dream for those who, like our relatives, came here to seek it.”