ITHACA, NY – When the New York State budget was completed last week, many upstaters were dismayed to find that the budget only provided a minimum wage increase of $12.50 to most everyone north of Westchester County.

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At a presentation at City Hall on Thursday, Eric Hesse, Director of the NYS Department of Veterans Affairs explained some additional details about the recently approved NYS budget, including the fact that the $12.50 figure is subject to change.

After a few slides discussing how great Governor Cuomo was for breaking the government gridlock, cutting taxes, delivering the last five budgets on time, and bringing down unemployment, Hasse discussed some of the specific elements of the new budget.

On the subject of the minimum wage increase, Hasse pointed out that New York had raised its minimum wage eight times since 1991, and six of those times lead to an increase in employment opportunities.

As previously reported, while New York, Long Island and Westchester County are slated for a minimum wage increase to $15, upstate New York is only promised $12.50. The minimum wage will raise to $9.70 at the end of 2016, and then continue to increase by $0.70 per year until it meets the $12.50 mark in 2020.

However, from that point on, further increases are up to $15 mark are tied to the inflation index. State Sen. James Seward told Syracuse.com that it could take 10 to 15 years to reach that point, which begs the question of whether or not that increase will be sufficient that far in the future.

Hasse moved on to highlight some of the other major elements of the budget.

First is the paid family leave program, which allows workers to take up to 12 weeks off at two-thirds pay. This program is funded by employees at about $1 per pay period, so the only cost to employers is the time lost while that person is out.

Hasse noted that this new family leave program is the most generous in the US, being double California and New Jersey, which each offer six weeks.

Hasse said that the state’s tax cuts will save residents on average between $767 to about $1,800. In the Southern Tier specifically, he said that more than 140,000 taxpayers will save on average $656 a year.

In addition to the education benefits we reported on previously, Hasse also explained that the “failing schools” in the Southern Tier will see $3.9 million to help convert them into “community schools.” The idea behind community schools, he said, is that they can bring more services to a centralized location to help better support both students and their families.

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The budget also includes a number of allocations for infrastructure: $27 billion for the department of transportation to work on upstate roads and bridges, $200 million for the upstate airport design competition, $200 million for water infrastructure, $500 million for state-wide broadband service.

Another piece of the budget will dedicated $750 for the next round of the so-called “Upstate Hunger Games.” Each region will also receive $10 million dedicated to the Downtown Revitalization Initiative, which is focused on revitalization urban centers.

Here’s a quick list of some of the other allocations that might impact Tompkins County:

  • a record $20 billion for affordable housing and to combat homelessness,
  • $300 million for Environmental Protection Fund
  • $54 million to combat terrorism
  • $20 million to incentive municipal consolidations to help keep local property taxes low
  • $13 million in tax credits to promote agricultural growth
  • nearly $1 million most for Cornell University Center for Advanced Technology and Life Sciences

Hasse also laid out Cuomo’s legislative priorities for the rest of the session, which include: ethic reform, housing and homelessness, combating opiate addiction and breast cancer prevention.

While reaction was generally positive, some people had concerns with certain elements of the budget.

One woman who worked for a non-profit spoke of the difficulties that could come with the increased minimum wage. She said that since her organization relies on state grants, it would be important for the state to keep pace with the growing minimum wage.

Ithaca Common Council member George McGonigal took some umbrage when it came to talking taxes. While Hasse was touting the state’s tax cuts, McGonigal pointed out that the state often shifts some of its burden down to the county and municipal levels — a complaint that’s been expressed before.

“The headline in the paper after the governor released his State of the State address was that property taxes are caused by the wasteful idiocy of local governments, and I take that as a personal insult. You can tell the governor that if you see him. And we don’t like it. It’s not real.”

He also questioned the logic behind the state’s tax cuts, which Hasse called the largest middle class tax cuts in years. However, in the context of these tax cuts, people making up to $300,000 a year were considered “middle class.” Hasse didn’t have a specific answer.

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Michael Smith

Michael Smith reports on politics and local news for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached via email at msmith@ithacavoice.com, by cell at (607) 229-0885, or via Google Voice at (518) 650-3639.