ITHACA, NY – On Thursday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed off on the New York State budget. Here are a few of the pieces that will have the biggest impact here in Tompkins County.

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Minimum wage increase

New York just barely missed becoming the first state in the US to commit to a $15 minimum wage — California edged us out by a few hours, according to the New York Times.

Some concessions were made, however. The minimum wage will grow to $15 by 2018 in New York City, but upstate is only guaranteed a minimum wage of $12.50 by 2021. Westchester County and Long Island will hit the $15 mark, but by 2021 instead of 2018.

The Tompkins County Worker’s Center simultaneously applauded and criticized the agreement in a press release. The statement called the decision “extremely disappointing” and accused Cuomo of going back on his promise to provide a $15 minimum wage to New Yorkers.

Adil Griguihi, Owner of Casablanca Pizzeria in Ithaca is quoted in the release, saying: “If they give an increase to New Yorkers, it should be the same increase at the same time for everyone. The rent is expensive in Tompkins County; EVERYTHING is expensive here. Even $15 is not enough. But the State should also be figuring out a way to help small business owners pay this wage.”

Others quoted in the release similarly pointed out that New York City isn’t the only place to suffer from high rents and high cost of living overall.

“The incredibly high cost of living in Tompkins County translates into many workers falling far short of a family sustaining livelihood even with the increase,” said Pete Meyers, Coordinator of the Tompkins County Worker’s Center in the statement. “The TCWC will continue its efforts for a true Living Wage for all workers in Tompkins County, and will support the right of workers to organize for collective bargaining and against Wage Theft, especially as the minimum wage rises.”

School funding increases

The Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA) has been a thorn in the side of schools throughout New York since the 2010-2011 fiscal year. The program was created to help close the state’s budget deficit, but it unfortunately did that by cutting aid to public schools.

The GEA cost the Ithaca City School District, for example, over $20 million in lost aid since it’s implementation.

The new New York State budget eliminates the GEA entirely.

Additionally, the new budget will inject $627 million in Foundation Aid to school’s across the state. The Foundation Aid program was launched in 2007 after the state lost a court case, requiring it to fund schools more fairly. However, the financial downtown in 2008 meant the program couldn’t reach it’s funding goals and was frozen in 2009.

Most Tompkins school districts are seeing an increase in projected aid as a result:

Other highlights

According the New York Times, the budget also includes a plan for billions of dollars in tax cuts for families making less than $300,000 a year.

The tax cut, which Cuomo characterized as long overdue, will reduce the State’s revenues by $4 billion annually by 2025.

Ithaca’s Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton highlighted a few additional elements of the new budget in a press release:

“After many weeks of negotiations, I’m proud to support the 2016-2017 state budget, which offers a far-reaching, comprehensive plan to invest in New York’s future. The final budget includes a significant investment in our schools – including an increase of $1.476 billion in school aid, including $627 million in Foundation Aid, and $434 million to fully restore the Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA) cut – a minimum wage increase that will phase in over several years and help lift many families out of poverty, increased funding for upstate transit, a tuition freeze for SUNY, replaced by $39 million in state aid, and a comprehensive Paid Family Leave program that ensures that workers aren’t forced to risk their jobs to care for a new baby or seriously ill family member. Every budget is a compromise, of course, but this budget contains much that will improve the lives of New York’s working families, and I was pleased to stand with my Assembly colleagues in support of it.”

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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.