The state legislature passed a $141.3 billion state budget, with the State Assembly completing its work shortly before midnight on Thursday. Final passage occurred one week past lawmaker’s self imposed deadline, but three days before the April 1 deadline.
The budget includes a phased increase of the state’s minimum wage to $9 an hour by the end of 2015. $300 million in tax cuts for small businesses and a $350 rebate check to New York families with children under the age of 17. The rebate checks will total $1.2 billion dollars over the next three years. On the revenue side of the equation, a tax on millionaires and a surcharge on electric utilities will be extended.
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver says it’s a budget he can be “proud” of, and called the minimum wage increase is a “very significant victory,” even though he would have liked to enact the entire increase at once.
Republicans, who hold about one third of the seats in the Assembly, pointed out what they said were flaws in the tax package. Assemblyman Bob Oaks, of Central and Western New York, speaking on the Assembly floor, says the budget “picks winners and losers.”
“We select certain people to receive a $350 child credit, but we ignore the young, struggling, childless married couple saving to buy their first home and waiting to have their first child,” Oaks said. “We also forget seniors on fixed incomes who are finding it difficult to make ends meet.”
Criticism was also directed at hundreds of millions of dollars in funding cuts to services for the developmentally disabled. Governor Cuomo proposed cutting $120 million to not for profit service providers. The federal government determined New York had been overbilling for state run developmentally disabled centers, and reduced New York’s Medicaid allotment by $500 million.
Cuomo and legislative leaders agreed to restore $30 million dollars, or around one fourth of the cuts.
Assembly members from both parties with disabled children and relatives vowed to fight on for full restoration. Assemblyman Harvey Weisenberg, a Long Island Democrat who has a disabled son, called out Governor Cuomo, saying the governor’s own mother has been an advocate for the developmentally disabled.
“I don’t know anybody that’s an elected official with a heart who would do this,” said an emotional Weisenberg.
The budget sets up a task force to try to use the $30 million in restorations, as well as other federal Medicaid monies to try to mitigate some of the effects of the reductions.
Governor Cuomo, who has argued that more money to the service providers is not the answer, has said he believes the cuts can be made up by cutting salaries of administrators at the not for profits, as well as other unnecessary expenses.
“Many of these overheads, I’m telling you, can be reduced,” Cuomo said earlier this month. “Many of the salaries are exorbitant. The corporate expenses are exorbitant, and that’s where we believe the reductions should be borne.”