For the most part, compared to prior years, this year’s budget was devoid of non-budgetary policy matters. That is a positive. No matter how meritorious, policy matters should stand on their own and not be jammed into legislation meant only to provide fiscal direction for the state. Also positive was the rejection of many of the tax increases the Governor called for in the beginning of the year. New York’s rightful reputation as a tax and spend state would have only been enhanced if all of his proposed taxes had been included. Further, the additional taxes were unnecessary in light of the fact that state tax receipts this year were higher than expected and federal cuts to healthcare did not materialize.
On the flipside, unfortunately, there also weren’t any tax cuts for the already over-burdened New York taxpayers. While the federal government has recognized how tax cuts spur the economy, there is no similar recognition in New York state. Until serious tax and regulatory relief is provided in New York state, we will continue to bleed jobs and citizens to lower-cost states.
This year’s budget did increase school funding by almost a billion dollars for a total of $26.03 billion. This increase is positive for no other reason than it will inevitably drive dollars to low-wealth school districts that cannot rely on property taxes to cover their expenses. However, if the state school aid formula was simplified and made more equitable, these large increases in school aid would not be necessary and low-wealth districts would be able to offer as many educational opportunities that high-wealth districts offer.
Lastly, the budget included big increases to various pools of money to be used for discretionary spending on matters such as economic development. One might think that in light of the recent conviction of Joe Percoco, one of the Governor’s top aides, on corruption charges stemming from, among other things, New York’s economic development programs, reforms providing greater transparency and oversight on how this money is spent would have also been included in the budget. Unfortunately, this did not materialize. Requiring simple reforms such as establishing an oversight committee to review and approve grant funding would go a long way to eliminate conflicts of interest. That committee would, for example, determine if those applying for grant dollars have also recently contributed to the Governor’s political campaign. This was brought to light at the recent corruption trials. More detail should also be provided in the budget so the public can clearly see how the money from these large pots is being spent.
These are just a few of the highlights from this massive budget. There are still many reasons to be concerned about the direction of our state and I will continue to push back on policies that hurt Upstate residents and policies that hinder our economy. If you have any questions or comments on this or any other state issue, or if you would like to be added to my mailing list or receive my newsletter, please contact my office. My office can be reached by mail at 200 North Second Street, Fulton, New York 13069, by e-mail at [email protected] or by calling (315) 598-5185. You may also friend me, Assemblyman Barclay, on Facebook.