Governor Andrew Cuomo is sticking to his claim that if the state continues to hold down spending increases, the budget will have a $2 billion surplus by the 2016-17 budget year.
And during his budget address this afternoon, Cuomo once again said that the surplus will enable a suite of tax cuts for businesses as well as residents. His 2014-15 budget proposal includes a cut to the corporate income tax rate, new tax credits for manufacturers, elimination of the income tax for upstate manufacturers, a tax credit for renters, and property tax relief for homeowners.
The tax package is balanced, he said, and is designed to pass. But his property tax relief for homeowners — a two-year state-funded property tax freeze — relies on local governments limiting spending and developing countywide consolidation and shared services plans. Many New Yorkers say they support government consolidation and shared services, only to fight such efforts in their own communities.
"We have too many levels of local government, period," Cuomo said.
And he came armed with examples. Erie County, he said, has 1,044 local governments — he was counting layers like lighting and sewer districts alongside more traditional town, village, city, and county governments — which levy $1.6 billion in property taxes each year. Monroe County has 624 local governments that levy $1.6 billion in property taxes.
Cuomo's budget presentation was education heavy. He called for a panel
to review how the state Board of Regents is managing Common Core. And he explained proposals for the state to fully fund universal pre-kindergarten and after- school programs. The state will fund each for five years and will work with districts to get the programs up and running as soon as possible. The state plans to spend $1.5 billion on pre-k and $720 million on after-school programs over the five-year period.
His budget includes a 3.8 percent increase in aid to school districts, which equals out to about $807 million more than last year.
He also repeated his plan for a $2 billion ballot measure to provide school districts with funding for computer technology upgrades or building space for pre-k and after-school programs.
Cuomo's budget also contains a proposal to renew and reform the state's brownfield tax credit program, which expires in 2015. The current program is flawed and, if renewed as-is, could cost more than the state can afford, said Joseph Martens, commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
Under the governor's renewal proposal, the criteria for the brownfield credits would change. Martens said the credits would target areas of higher need, priority economic development projects, and affordable housing programs. The reforms mirror what some advocacy groups have called for, but some developers and legislators will likely push back.
Cuomo's budget also contains a Rochester-specific economic development allocation. The budget includes $40 million for continued development of the Eastman Business Park, though Cuomo didn't say what, specifically, the money is for.
It also includes proposals for a publicly funded campaign finance system, a campaign finance enforcement unit at the state Board of Elections, and various ethics reforms, including a hotline for sexual harassment complaints.
The budget proposal calls for $715 million in state aid for municipalities, which is the same as last year.