ALBANY, N.Y. — Early Monday, lawmakers signed off on the 2019-20 fiscal year budget setting a deluge of Democratic-leaning legislative deals like additional funding for education and a permanent cap on property taxes. The budget was considered “on time” by the State Comptroller meaning legislators will get an additional bonus to their pay this year, but they’re not the only ones. Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul were given a pay raise in a last-minute addition to the budget. What else got scrapped and what made it into print?

And separately in Washington, Rep. Tom Reed made some moves across the aisle to back Democrats’ legislation on the gender pay gap and transgender individuals serving in the military. Democratic senators also thwarted a move to put them on the record about the Green New Deal.

New York State Budget Breakdown

Property Tax Cap

Despite opposition from Assembly Democrats, the budget includes a measure to institute a permanent 2 percent property tax cap. This would prevent local municipalities and school districts from raising property taxes more than two percent each year unless they vote to override the cap. Cuomo said the cap could save taxpayers $24.4 billion.

Aid and Incentives to Municipalities

Gov. Cuomo caught many legislators and local officials by surprise when he proposed cutting Aid and Incentives to Municipalities funding to local governments that use less than 2 percent of the state money as part of their budget. Every town and village in Tompkins County would’ve seen a total cut in state funding, but the proposal was scrapped last week after vehement opposition from both parties.

Related: State funds for towns and villages at risk in Gov. Cuomo’s proposed budget

Public Campaign Finance

The Legislature was unable to reach its own agreement on the topic of publicly funded campaigns, instead choosing to charge a small commission with working out the details. The governor’s office said the commission is charged with laying out a system that would allow local and statewide candidates to receive $6 from the state for every $1 they receive in small donations.

Republicans flat out opposed the measure due to its increase in spending, but some progressive Democrats also had qualms. They argue that a commission could misconstrue the original spirit of the legislation to support grassroots candidates. The commission will make a recommendation by Dec. 1, after which the Legislature can vote to repeal its findings. Unless they do so, the commission’s recommendation will become law.

Education Funding

The budget provides for an additional $6 billion to be allocated in aid to school districts. According to a release from the governor’s office, that’s a record for the state. About 70 percent of that aid is earmarked for poorer districts.

Prison Closures

Legislation in the budget deal will give the authority for Gov. Cuomo to close two prisons in New York within the next year. He had originally proposed closing three prisons after what he claims is a decreasing prison population across the state. No specific prisons were named to be closed. No state prisons are in Tompkins County, but other in the region include Elmira, Southport, Five Point, Cayuga and Auburn Correctional Facilities.

Legislator Reactions

Both Ithaca legislators, Democratic Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton and Republican State Senator Tom O’Mara released statements about their reaction to the budget during the day Monday. Both representatives had qualms with certain parts of the agreement. O’Mara took particular issue with funding for the DREAM Act to fund college scholarships for undocumented students and other spending initiatives he said unfairly raise taxes on New Yorkers. Lifton wasn’t happy with the creation of a commission to decide the future of public campaign financing, arguing this should’ve been handled by the legislature. She also praised the additional funding for foundation aid, but said the state should put more funding towards k-12 education in general.

Tom O’Mara (R-Big Flats):

O’Mara speaks about Medicaid reform in 2012. (Courtesy of O’Mara’s website)
O’Mara speaks about Medicaid reform in 2012. (Courtesy of O’Mara’s website)

State Senator Tom O’Mara (R,C,I-Big Flats) said the 2019-20 state budget approved by Cuomo and the Legislature’s Democratic majorities welcomes back, “a tax-and-spend approach to government that’s bad news for taxpayers, job creators, and workers.”

Since the beginning of the year, O’Mara has been calling for state leaders to make tax relief a priority in the new state budget.  Instead, he said the budget adopted today relies on more than $1 billion in new taxes and fees to support significant new short- and long-term state spending.  The new taxes will include a new sales tax on internet purchases that will affect all consumers.

O’Mara said that the budget also sets in motion new state spending commitments that will become increasingly expensive, including a system of public campaign financing, electoral reforms like early voting, tuition assistance for illegal immigrants, and others.

And while O’Mara has long supported making the state’s 2 percent local property tax cap permanent, which the new budget does, he said that New York continues to ignore the urgent need to roll back unfunded state mandates in order to give the cap any hope of ever producing property tax cuts for local taxpayers.

“Tax-and-spend government has been a disaster for New York State in the past and it’s about to make a mess of things again. We needed to stop taxing, spending, regulating, and mandating New Yorkers to death.  Yet here we go again with a tax-and-spend approach to government that’s bad news for taxpayers, job creators, and workers, especially upstate,” said O’Mara, noting that the last time state government fell under one-party, Democratic control for two years beginning in 2009, taxes and fees were increased by $14 billion to support upwards of $14 billion in new state spending.

Barbara Lifton (D-Ithaca):

Barbara Lifton

“This was a difficult budget because of an unexpected $2.6 billion drop in revenues that the state has faced, but despite these challenging financial circumstances, we worked hard and did the best we could, and in the end, managed to secure some significant accomplishments in the final budget.

On PreK-12 Education, I continue to be concerned that the state is underfunding our schools and failing to fulfill its constitutional obligation to provide every child in the state with a sound and basic education, but I am pleased that we were able to get a $618 million increase in Foundation Aid to our schools.

On Higher Education, I am pleased that the final budget included a funding boost for community colleges, which increases the base aid rate to $2,947, an increase of $100 per full-time student. We were also able to restore funding for critical opportunity programs, such as the Education Opportunity Program (EOP) and the Higher Education Opportunity Program (HEOP).     

Other areas of the final budget that saw improvement include a restoration of critical Medicaid funding to hospitals, nursing homes, and other healthcare organizations, an increase of $8.8 million for upstate transit, landmark critical justice reforms, additional funding for opioid treatment, funding for electronic polls books and early voting, a restoration of library aid, a statewide ban on plastic bags, and a restoration of state aid for cities, towns, and villages.

The final budget had its share of disappointments as well. In particular, I wasn’t happy about the creation of a new commission that will make a recommendation on the public financing of elections, as I believe this is something that should be handled through the standard legislative process. But overall, given the difficult circumstances that were presented to us, I believe this is a budget that moves the needle forward for New York State’s working families.”

The Legislature is taking a break this week after their marathon sessions leading up the budget. Check in next week for a detailed analysis of what both O’Mara and Lifton thought of some of the legislation passed with this year’s budget.

Rep. Tom Reed (23rd Congressional District)

Democrats pushed through a resolution last week to oppose President Trump’s proposed ban on transgender troops in the military. Rep. Reed was one of five Republicans who joined with Democrats in opposing the ban when it came to the floor for a vote, but he originally voted to oppose its introduction in the first place.

Tom Reed. (File Photo/The Ithaca Voice)

Reed also crossed the aisle to vote for the final passage of Connecticut Democrat Rosa DeLauro’s Paycheck Fairness Act which would close loopholes in the 1963 Equal Pay Act in an attempt to close the wage gap between different gendered earners. Despite being hailed as bipartisan by DeLauro, the legislation has failed to gain support from most Republicans since she started introducing it in 1997. Reed first voted in favor of a Republican maneuver that would legislatively tank the bill, but was one of seven Republicans to vote for the bill’s final passage.

The Supreme Court heard oral argument in two cases from North Carolina and Maryland over partisan gerrymandering last week. Reed joined activists in front of the court, calling on justices to strike down the practice of drawing electoral maps that give precedence to one political party.

House Democrats tried to override President Trump’s veto of their disapproval of a declaration of a national emergency on the southern border. Reed voted with the majority of Republicans not to buck the President thus keeping the national emergency in place.

Last week the House was divided, but not along party lines, over a normally routine measure of approving the chamber’s Journal — the specific document keeping track of actions on the House floor. Votes on the journal are a House mechanism used by both minority and majority parties to force members who don’t want to be viewed as missing House business, to stay in Washington usually to make sure they stay for a separate vote. Last Thursday, a Journal vote came up. Forty-five Republicans voted for it, but Reed joined the 128 against the measure.

U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer & U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand

Last week, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) brought up Bronx Freshman Democrat Alexandria Ocasio Cortez’s Green New Deal legislation in an attempt to target Democratic senators who may not be in favor of the bill. In response, all but four Democrats voted “present” on the Senate floor including Senators Gillibrand and Schumer.

The move by McConnell was meant to use the rising star of Ocasio-Cortez to put Democrats on the record whether they support her progressive environmental policy. This includes six senators running for president in 2020, including Gillibrand. By voting “present,” the Senators are affirming they were in the chamber for the vote, but didn’t vote yes or no on the measure. Had Schumer and the leadership not whipped the caucus into mostly voting present, the block could’ve split, drawing attacks and criticism from Republicans.

Both New York senators also voted in favor of former National Highway Transportation Safety Administration Administrator, Nicole Nason, to head the Federal Highway Administration. Nason is a native of Suffolk County.

Vaughn Golden

Vaughn Golden is a freelance radio and print reporter covering politics around the southern tier and central New York. He authors the weekly "Capitol Watch" watchdog report on Ithaca's representatives...