As groups press for funding, Assembly passes one-house budget bill - The Buffalo News

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As groups press for funding, Assembly passes one-house budget bill

ALBANY – A range of groups, from medical marijuana advocates to public school organizations, made a last-ditch effort Wednesday to get their issues considered in the 2014 state budget that is slowly coming together at the Capitol.

Making the loudest noise at the Capitol Wednesday were groups tied to parents and teachers unions who chanted outside Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s office for more money for the state’s 700 school districts.

A building away, other education groups were pressing lawmakers to derail Cuomo’s plan for a property tax freeze that will deny residents of a community or school district a state tax rebate unless local officials agree to cut spending in the future.

Timothy Kremer, executive director of the New York State School Boards Association, said districts accommodated state aid cuts several years ago and then the state’s 2 percent property tax cap.

“We were good soldiers,” he said.

But Cuomo’s new plan will force schools to further cut the ranks of teachers and classroom programs and will deny tax breaks in communities that have already cut spending through consolidation and shared service with other localities, critics say.

As groups made their pitches, the Assembly pushed through its own one-house budget bill that will be part of the final discussions for a 2014 budget in the next few weeks.

In the Senate, a new one-house resolution embraced Cuomo’s property tax freeze as well as other tax cuts the governor proposed. The Senate plan, sources told The News, would boost education funding by more than $4 billion over the next four years, which the Assembly also proposed.

The Senate plan also envisions phasing out over two years the Gap Elimination Adjustment, a program forced upon school districts since 2009 in which the state took part of districts’ state aid to help the state budget.

The Senate did not publicly release its budget resolution, which officials expect to pass today.

In the Assembly, Democrats in the majority pushed through a one-house bill that offers a $1.1 billion, three-year property tax relief program that restricts tax breaks to residents with household incomes under $200,000 a year. The Assembly plan differs from Cuomo’s property tax freeze proposal that would be available to all New Yorkers regardless of income levels.

The Assembly plan states that households with incomes of less than $120,000 per year and that pay more than 3 percent of income on property taxes would get a 20 percent tax credit on the amount above 3 percent. Those making between $150,000 and $200,000 annually would get a 4 percent credit if their property tax bills are more than 15 percent of their income. Assembly Ways and Means Chairman Herman Farrell said the average qualified upstate property taxpayer would get a credit of $435 per year.

The Assembly plan also sets up a medical marijuana growth and distribution system in New York, permitting physicians to approve use of state-approved marijuana to patients suffering “a severe debilitating or life-threatening” condition, which could include cancer, glaucoma, AIDS, arthritis and post-traumatic stress syndrome. Patients could legally possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana. Sellers could be for-profit or not-for-profit corporations. The Assembly plan also imposes a tax on distributors, as well as a 10 percent excise tax on buyers of medical marijuana.

Money collected by the tax would go to the state, with some exceptions, including 7.5 percent of the excise tax proceeds to counties that permit the growing of marijuana and 7.5 percent to counties where medical marijuana is dispensed. Another 5 percent would go for state drug-prevention efforts.

The Assembly budget plan also creates an Office of Utility Consumer Advocate to represent the interests of residential utility customers, sharply boosts borrowing above Cuomo’s total plan by including more than $1 billion in infrastructure improvements at public colleges, and turns back elements of Cuomo’s plan to relax certain pesticide application reporting requirements.

In a provision that picks a fight with the governor, the Assembly also would require members of Cuomo’s 10 regional economic development councils to report their outside financial income and investments to avoid possible conflicts of interests and sets new restrictions on the governor’s ability to place “lump sum’’ allocations in the budget without specifying how the money is to be spent.


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