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'Big Ugly' state budget bill creates winners, losers

ALBANY – Legislators call it the “Big Ugly,’’ and at 343 pages, it is pretty big.

It is one piece of legislation that authorizes billions of dollars in spending and enacts an array of big and little nonfiscal policy matters.

Various interest groups consider themselves winners or losers based on what is in it.

The bill got its nickname because many unrelated items are tossed into one big bill and always completed at the last minute of budget negotiations.

There are items affecting farmers, gasoline distributors, teens who commit crimes, people who want to ride in an Uber or Lyft car,  property taxpayers, local governments, movie companies, racehorse owners, housing developers, “certain members” of the New York City police pension fund and cemeteries – or rather people who end up in a cemetery.

Cuomo, lawmakers reach deal on $163 billion state budget

Linking so many items into one bill also makes it difficult for lawmakers to oppose the measure because it includes so many popular items, including $26 billion for public schools.

The Assembly approved it Saturday and the Senate is expected to OK the legislation when it returns to session.

Here are some of the key items contained in the bill first made public early Saturday morning while most New Yorkers were asleep:

Higher education

The budget sets up a mixed bag of help for college students. In the coming year, students at public colleges from families earning earn less than $100,000 a year will not have to pay any tuition. By the program’s third year, the income eligibility rises. The program does not cover room and board, fees and other expenses. It will save students – but cost taxpayers – more than $160 million a year.

At the same time, the budget will allow State University of New York campuses to raise tuition by $200 per year over the next five years for students whose family incomes are above $100,000. SUNY tuition has risen 30 percent over the past five years.

Other requirements for free tuition eligibility include: students must be enrolled full time, average 30 credits per year and graduate on time. There are also minimum grade point averages that must be achieved each year, which vary based on type of college and program. Recipients must agree to live and work in New York after graduation for the same number of years they got the college financing or else the grant becomes a loan.

Private college students will see a boost in state financial aid for those with family incomes less than $100,000 and only after money through TAP and Pell awards are taken into account. Awards would range between $3,000 to $5,500 per year. It requires colleges to provide a dollar match and also freezes that student’s tuition for the entire time they receive the new type of scholarship.

For the private colleges, it provides an escape clause: they can opt out of the program if they don’t want to make the financial concessions to students.

Ride hailing

Big Ugly authorizes “transportation network companies,’’ also known as ride-hailing services offered by companies like Uber and Lyft. The bill sets a statewide set of standards, rejecting Assembly Democrats' efforts to leave regulations to localities, which is law for taxi companies. Minimum insurance levels are established for ride-hailing drivers and the drivers will require background checks. But drivers will not be subject to fingerprint background checks.

There are anti-discrimination protections, such as racial profiling of neighborhoods. No quotas were established for the number of vehicles accessible for people with disabilities. A task force will study that issue.

Ride hailing is expected to be operating in upstate and Long Island sometime this summer. It already exists in New York City.

The state Department of Motor Vehicles still must go through a public rule-making process to come up with statewide regulations.

Bet your app: Ride hailing upstate may debut as soon as July 4

Taxes and fees

  • Millionaires tax: Extending a tax on high-income earners, individual filers making over $1 million, will be worth $735 million to the state this year and rises to $3.2 billion in 2018, according to Assembly Ways and Means Committee Chairman Herman Farrell. It affects 45,000 people who pay income taxes in New York. Half of them are residents of other states.
  •  Tax breaks for film and television productions will be extended for three years. Most of the tax breaks go to movies and TV shows in New York City. It’s worth $420 million a year to the industry.
  •  Cuomo's proposal to tax and regulate the e-cigarette industry was rejected. The Legislature also denied a bid to collect sales taxes on third-party sales through sites such as Amazon.
  •  New York may be known for its high taxes, but this budget offers a new tax break when someone dies: it lifts the sales tax charge on the purchases of cemetery monuments.
  •  Members of public and private sector unions will be allowed to deduct their annual dues on their state income taxes. Tab to taxpayers: $35 million annually.
  • Employers who hire apprentices between the ages of 16 and 24 for certain kinds of trades will get tax breaks.

Age of criminal responsibility

The age of adult criminal responsibility rises from 16 to 18 years old. Violent offenders will be sent to criminal court, but other cases will go to youth or family courts and youth detention facilities will be expanded. Individuals under age 18 will not be placed in adult prisons or jails.

School aid

The Big Ugly bill shows – in language only a few people in Albany write and understand – how $26 billion in state aid is distributed to the state’s 700 school districts. The total aid package grows $1.1 billion, or 4.4 percent. The main funding formula, called Foundation Aid, goes up $700 million.

State aid to schools grows, but some administrators call it 'status quo'

Empire State Trail

Though a recent poll found his idea unpopular, the governor did get lawmakers to go along with his plan to connect various existing pathways together in a paved, 756-mile walking/biking trail. It  eventually will run north-south from New York City to the Quebec border and east-west from Albany to Buffalo.

Child care

The current child and dependent care tax credit will be expanded to benefit families with two children and minimum annual incomes of $50,000. Current eligibility is $60,000. Some 200,000 families will be participating in the program. Tab to the state: $62 million.

Government consolidation

The governor’s plan requiring cities, towns and villages to submit cost-savings plans to county leaders was significantly watered down by lawmakers after sharp criticism from local governments around the state.

Mayors and supervisors will be allowed to opt out of any plan a county may come up that affects their municipality. Gone was a proposal to require that voters in the counties get a chance to consider the plans.

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