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In state budget: tuition help, upstate ride-hailing, millionaires tax

ALBANY – Lawmakers sometime late Wednesday or Thursday are hoping to adopt a final state budget that provides tuition breaks for some college students, legalizes ride-hailing in upstate and relies on millionaires to help fund new spending on everything from schools to state agencies.

A day after approving emergency short-term measures to fund the government’s operations for two months, legislation to adopt a year-long, final $160 billion state budget began to be made public Tuesday evening.

The Senate overnight passed six budget bills and the Assembly was hoping to go into session sometime after noon to take up those same bills. However, the process is limping along, as differences remain between the governor over criminal justice and education funding issues. The final bills could be given final approval sometime Thursday, though lawmakers were not ruling out the voting to fall into Friday.

Agreements nearing on Tuesday came after a topsy-turvy two weeks at the Capitol. It was a period peppered by yelling matches between top officials, a series of “framework” budget deals that collapsed and, sticking to Albany’s spring tradition, much confusion.

“I don’t believe the end is in sight. I’m finally learning that I shouldn’t expect anything to happen until it happens,’’ Sen. Simcha Felder, a Brooklyn Democrat, said of Albany and the budget process. “It’s like the lottery: you never know.’’

Perhaps most clear Tuesday is that relations between Cuomo and his fellow Democrats in the Assembly are at an all-time low. Neither of the parties were doing anything to hide their growing anger with each other.

Sharp disagreements over the lateness of the budget and final components of the budget are, sources say, poised to spill over well into the end of session in June.

Regardless, lawmakers were planning Wednesday to plod on, get a budget enacted and get out of town for a “cooling off” period.

Still not made public Tuesday night was the “revenue bill,’’ which will include a hodgepodge of assorted policy and fiscal items that have split the sides for weeks.

School aid

The new budget is set to increase state aid by 4 percent from last year, according to several government sources. District-by-district allotments won’t be shared with lawmakers until sometime Wednesday, assuming there are no final blow-ups between Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and the Legislature.

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The main funding formula for schools, called Foundation Aid, will rise by about $700 million.

Millionaires tax

People who make more than $1 million a year will not, as scheduled, see their tax rates fall in the coming year. Instead, they will pay a marginal top rate of 8.82%, instead of dropping to 6.85%, for two years, one year shorter than proposed by Cuomo.

Senate Republicans bowed to the idea as a revenue-raising move, though they beat back an attempt by Assembly Democrats to boost the tax rates even higher on high-income earners.

Help for Tonawanda, Ken-Ton

:The budget will also include financial help to the Town of Tonawanda, the Ken-Ton school district and the county to mitigate the loss of tax revenues by the closure of the Huntley power plant, according to Assemblyman Robin Schimminger, a Kenmore Democrat, and Sen. Chris Jacobs, a Buffalo Republican.

Eighty percent of lost tax revenues will be reimbursed in the first year declining to 20 percent by the seventh year.

Over seven years, the lawmakers projected the deal will provide $5.4 million, with $2.7 million of that to the school district, $1.8 million to the town and $1 million to the county.

Tuition aid

The budget is set to OK an expansion of state funding to help more students afford both private and public colleges.

Long pushed by Assembly Democrats, proposed in a new form this year by Cuomo, the final deal includes a number of items Senate Republicans demanded, including expanding the effort to include private colleges and a post-graduation residency requirement.

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The college deal, as tentatively agreed to, includes:

  • A Tuition Assistance Program award of up to $5,500 for qualifying students with the rest of tuition payments waived by the State University of New York for students with family incomes up to $100,000 in the first year rising to $125,000 by the third year. A Cuomo administration official, however, said that the full SUNY tuition amount -- $6,470 for state residents in a bachelor’s degree program – will be covered by the new program.
  • Students must live and work in New York for the number of years in which the aid is accepted or the grants become loans.
  • Students must maintain a 2.3 to 3.0 grade point average, depending on the type of college and program enrolled in and the extra aid lasts for only four years for students in a bachelor’s degree program, in order to ensure on-time graduation.

Final details on financial aid enhancements for private college students were not released Tuesday night. But, those students will also see an increase in their annual TAP maximum award levels.

And colleges must match the amount the student receives from the state and agree to freeze tuition for the time an eligible student attends the college. Officials said colleges could opt out of the program, which sources said is being offered as a way not to hurt private colleges that are financially struggling.

Officials cautioned, however, that the college program was among those that could still change  before lawmakers vote on a final budget bill.

Medicaid prescription cap

A cap on what the state will pay for certain prescription drugs for Medicaid enrollees was approved. The legislation states that the state has a “significant public interest” in controlling drug costs and is one that “ensures patient access while providing financial stability for the state and participating providers.’’

Clean water

The budget includes a $2.5 billion clean water borrowing program, and testing must be done on all public water systems once every three years with state aid to smaller municipal water systems.

The budget also includes additional state funding for the purchase of land from “willing sellers” in order to help protect drinking water supplies.

Medicaid cap

The cap on Medicaid expenditures was extended for another two years.

Criminal justice

The state will finance the creation of a new hate crimes task force within the State Police, a move that comes after a number of threats and graffiti targeting Jewish facilities and others.

The budget also is okaying limited tests of driverless vehicles on public vehicles, though they must be conducted with a driver in the car and under supervision of the State Police. It will give companies a one year window until April 2018 to test “autonomous vehicle technology” so long as they get approval for the demonstrations by the state motor vehicles department.

The age of adult criminal responsibility was raised from 16 to 18 years old.



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