Cuomo unveils 2014-2015 state budget

$137 Billion, 1.7 percent over last year

BY KATHY KAHN

cuomoamGovernor Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday unveiled his proposed 2014-2015 budget, which contains, among many other proposals, a property tax freeze for homeowners and a call to the over 1,000 towns and villages to consolidate services to save taxpayer dollars.

Cuomo initially introduced the new budget by saying that, when elected, New York had a $10 billion deficit on its books but now boasts a $2 billion surplus. Technically, the proposed budget, if passed, would save $300 million in 2014 and barring unforeseen circumstances in the state’s economic picture, will eventually rise to a $2 billion surplus by 2018.

Using his familiar Power Point presentation to bring home his message,–and garner a few laughs– Cuomo outlined an auspicious proposal that would freeze property taxes for homeowners with incomes less than $500,000 a year—but with a few conditions attached: The homeowner’s taxing municipality and school district must cut its own spending by one percent in the 2014-2015 budget year, two percent in the second year and three percent in the third.

To encourage consolidation and shared services, the budget includes $39 million in grant money to encourage intra-municipal cooperation in New York’s 62 counties and give tax credits for residents of local governments that fully dissolve or consolidate services.

Cuomo said these numbers could be achieved if counties, towns and villages would start cooperating and sharing services within their respective borders. To that end, Cuomo included $39 million in grant money for municipalities that dissolve and become p

Education will receive a 3.8 percent raise to $21.9 billion. While Cuomo supports the precepts of the Common Core agenda, “The way Common Core has been managed by the Board of Regents is flawed,” he said. “There’s too much uncertainty and anxiety for students and teachers….we need a rational system that is well administered. We will assemble a panel which includes education experts and members of the Legislature. Let’s get recommendations together by the end of this session and end the anxiety parents and teachers are feeling across the state.” He called for an end to standardized testing for children in grades K-2. “There’s no reason a 5-year-old should take a standardized test. That’s not the way they learn.”

For high school students in the top 10 percent of their class, $8 million in scholarships at public colleges will be available for graduates who continue their education in science, technology, engineering or math and agree to remain and work for five years in New York after receiving their Associates Degree.

The budget asks lawmakers to set aside $2.2 billion in spending over the next five years to fund universal pre-K statewide and provide robust after-school programs in all school districts. “We will encourage schools to do this as quickly as possible. We want to encourage the districts to perform—as fast as they can move, we will move.” Charter schools will be eligible for pre-school funding.” In addition, a $2 billion “Smart School” referendum will be on the November ballot to bring broadband to school districts and provide tablets or computers to students to bring education on par with today’s technology.

Saying New York has experienced at least nine federally-designated disasters since taking office three years ago, Cuomo proposed spending $15 million for a new school to teach Emergency Preparedness, Homeland Security and Cybersecurity.

Cuomo said the state’s healthcare site is “one of the best operating ones in the country” and has signed up 330,000 persons. “We brought the cost of Medicaid down as a result of our Medicaid Redesign Team, while enrolling more people at the same time, a savings of $34 billion–$17 billion for the state, $17 billion for the federal government,” Cuomo said, also noting the state requested from U.S. Health & Human Services a $10 billion federal Medicaid waiver to continue to improve and implement the system. “We need funding to enact the changes that are allowing us to save money—we have the most serious problems in Brooklyn—we need HHS to act on the waiver now—it has been 18 months since our initial request.” St. Francis in Poughkeepsie is also facing bankruptcy and waiting for relief from the federal waiver.”

Some businesses may benefit from Cuomo’s 2014-15 budget proposals, which include a statewide refundable credit equal to 20 percent of the property taxes paid by manufacturers who own property. It also asks the state to begin phasing out temporary assessments for industrial customers in the upcoming budget year, rather than waiting to eliminate the program in 2017. According to the Governor’s official highlights, this will save business and residents $600 million over the next three years.

Cuomo also praised the work the Regional Economic Development Councils have done in getting grant money. The new budget calls for $150 million in new economic development capital funding and $70 million in state tax credits, that will be combined with a wide range of existing agency programs, for a fourth round of REDC awards to fund regional priority projects.

In a recent address to the Rockland Business Association, President/CEO Al Samuels told business and non-profit leaders, “Our Mid-Hudson Regional Development Council had only 18 applications, and Rockland received just one. (The Town of Clarkstown received $1 million to revitalize the Nyack waterfront.) “Businesses need to get involved with the grant funding process to bring more money into the county.”

While several officials and legislators praised Cuomo’s vision for New York—Town of Haverstraw Supervisor Howard Phillips said, “Governor Cuomo’s 2014 budget plan puts forth important initiatives that build on the past three years of success…I commend the Governor for his vision and forward to working in partnership”—-others were not as praiseworthy.

Assemblyman Kieran Lalor (R-Fishkill) trounced the upcoming November referendum to provide tablets/computers to students, saying the programs have failed in other states that have tried to roll them out. “We need to stop throwing good money after bad and look for real solutions in education…Common Core is fundamentally flawed. Yes, we need to increase standards….Common Core isn’t going to do it.” Lalor also suggested Cuomo and the Legislature stop passing the buck: “Unfunded mandates from Albany are the driving force behind higher taxes….yes, local governments need to consolidate, but Albany needs to end unfunded mandates.”

Unfunded mandates typically add between 70-90 percent to the county’s overall tax levy.