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State budget strikes an acceptable balance

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, the State Senate and the Assembly have pulled off what was once believed to be an impossible hat trick – three consecutive on-time budgets. It hasn’t been done in three decades.

But no matter how many hockey pucks the governor poses with to illustrate the accomplishment– hat trick, get it? – he won’t win any easy points with some in the business community upset over what they believe are a string of penalties in a $141.3 billion state budget. In other words, this current, on-time state budget has something for everyone to like and dislike. Still, the positives clearly outweigh the negatives. It’s a good budget.

What’s to like? Well, as Cuomo said, the budget is providing more than $800 million in tax relief for New York businesses over three years; it invests in the future with initial funding to launch the Innovation Hot Spots program; it cuts taxes on middle-class families and small businesses; and places a high emphasis on education. The budget also keeps growth in state spending below 2 percent and eliminates a budget deficit of $1.3 billion.

And for Buffalo, there is a stadium rehabilitation project for the beloved – most of the time, anyway – Buffalo Bills and, of course, the Buffalo Billion, which has helped transform opinions and expectations, not to mention the landscape around here – think the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus.

To Western New York, the $1 billion commitment made by Cuomo at his own political peril has strong value and permeates other concerns. The governor, as he said, is “all in.” The Western New York Regional Development Council, co-chaired by developer Howard A. Zemsky and University at Buffalo President Satish K. Tripathi, has provided invaluable leadership in making certain that money is directed where it will be best utilized.

It will take more than three budgets for this governor, or any governor, to undo the problems caused by 50 years of bad decisions. So, what’s to quibble with what he touted? To start, there is the increase in the minimum wage that features a carve-out for teenagers that taxpayers have to foot the bill to pay.

And in a recent Another Voice, Buffalo Niagara Partnership President and CEO Andrew Rudnick conveyed strong displeasure with what he called a “highly flawed 2013-14 state budget.” To the partnership, the budget is a litany of more bad decisions: an extension of the “Temporary State Energy and Utility Service Conservation Assessment,” an energy tax on business and consumer utility bills that was to expire next year; increases in the minimum wage; and an extension of the “millionaire’s tax” on high-income earners.

These are aspects that the Business Council argues add to the cost of doing business, though the group also says the budget includes a number of tax incentives and reforms for which it advocated. It generally approves of the budget.

Meanwhile, the conservative Empire Center for New York State Policy also pointed out as a negative the series of temporary tax rebates, such as the family tax credit that will send $350 checks to about a million households in New York in October 2014, weeks before Election Day. Even we wouldn’t be surprised if that program were expanded to those households without children 18 and under. Empire Center also wanted the public to know about what it said is a $1.75 billion raid on reserves of the State Insurance Fund to help pay state operating expenses. But the governor and his staff would strongly disagree with those criticisms.

No budget is perfect. This one has its shortfalls but not enough to negate the merits. It will be interesting to see how the budget plays out next year, when Cuomo and all legislators are up for re-election.