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Cuomo budget looks to raise school aid by $2.1 billion over two years

ALBANY – Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is proposing what he calls his most ambitious set of fiscal and policy plans for the coming years, calling for a massive round of new spending aimed at everything from public schools to roads and bridges.

The governor, in his annual address to lawmakers Wednesday afternoon, proposed a 2016 state budget that will grow about 1.7 percent.

How much the overall budget will total was not immediately released, but Cuomo’s spending wish list is as long as any governor in recent history. The governor’s office, in the one budget book released prior to his speech, put the number at $143.6 billion, but that does not include billions of dollars in “extraordinary” federal funding and settlements sums reached in recent years with financial institutions.

The governor wants the state’s spending on 700 school districts to grow by $2.1 billion from the current $23.5 billion amount, and he wants to try, again, to give a tax break to parents who send their children to private or parochial schools. That idea has died repeatedly in the state Assembly.

Cuomo began his speech in a convention center hall on an upbeat note. “The state of the state, my friends, is strong,” he said to the 239th session of the State Legislature. “The Empire State is poised to grow and to lead.”

Here are the main proposals:

Ethics plan

An array of new ethics-related plans, just a month after the corruption convictions of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos.

The proposal calls for closing a loophole in the campaign finance law that permits certain donors to bypass donation limits, and tries, again, to enact a voluntary taxpayer-financed campaign finance system.

The Cuomo plan, already meeting resistance in the Senate, calls for limiting the outside income of legislators to 15 percent of their base $79,500 annual salary. It is similar to a restriction now on members of Congress. Whether Cuomo will back a legislative pay raise to lure lawmakers to embrace his idea is uncertain.

The governor also proposed to fully apply the state’s freedom of information law to the Legislature, and to allow pensions to be barred from lawmakers convicted of crimes. On voter access, he wants to allow early voting in all elections by requiring counties to open at least one polling place 12 days prior to an election. He also proposed requiring political consultants who advise elected officials – of which there has been a long line for the governor during his years in office – to register as lobbyists.

Education

Cuomo embraced the call by leaders of the State University of New York system to continue raising tuition each year at SUNY campuses across the state. SUNY for the past five years has been able to hike tuition up to $300 a year for in-state undergraduates without approval from the Legislature. Cuomo says that “rational” tuition policy should continue another five years.

Like the Senate Republicans, Cuomo wants to eliminate what critics call a fiscal gimmick imposed on school districts in which the state took back aid otherwise due the districts as part of a 2010 budget-balancing move for Albany. Unlike the Senate Republicans, Cuomo wants to get rid of that Gap Elimination Adjustment over two years. Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan has said the budget will not happen unless the GEA, as it is known, is ended this year. The price tag on that is $434 million.

The Cuomo called for a $2.1 billion increase in state education aid increase, but over two years. In the upcoming fiscal year, Cuomo is calling for $991 million school aid increase, well below the $2.4 billion sought by the Board of Regents. Cuomo also wants $30 million to pay for expanding pre-kindergarten access to several thousand 3- and 4-year-olds.

A district-by-district allotment for the school aid was not released.

Economic development

Cuomo has already rolled out most of his economic development plans over the past week, such as $100 million for a competitive grant program for 10 upstate cities to improve downtown areas.

His budget embraces legalization of mixed martial arts, an industry that has been battling for years to get into New York.

The Democratic governor continues to warmly embrace the state’s alcohol, beer and wine industries, which he has been propping up with tax breaks and other incentives for several years. In his new budget, he proposes additional tax breaks for craft beverage brewers and to create the “clear legal framework” for the sale of alcohol over the Internet.

The governor also is proposing a major expenditure – $20 billion – for combat homeless and affordable housing programs. The plan includes $10 billion to build 100,000 low-income housing units across the state over the next five years.

Small business would get a $300 million tax break, while small to large businesses are being asked by Cuomo to pay for a minimum wage hike to $15 per hour over the coming years.

Some lawmakers have demanded “parity” in funding between the downstate transit system and upstate roads and bridge repairs. Cuomo, in his budget, is asking for $26.1 billion for the downstate system, and $22 billion for road and bridge projects across Long Island and upstate.

email: tprecious@buffnews.com