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Assembly makes state budget unofficial

STEPHON JOHNSON Amsterdam News Staff | 4/4/2013, 5:16 p.m.

After a lot of hand-wringing and dealmaking, New York state elected officials met the deadline for a new state budget.

The budget includes close to $800 million in tax relief for New York businesses over three years, an increase of nearly $1 billion in school aid, the lowering and three-year-long phaseout of the Temporary Utility Assessment on electric, gas, water and steam utilities, $7.1 billion in transportation capital investments in 2013-14 and 2014-15, and a new tax credit giving families with incomes between $40,000 and $300,000 eligibility to receive a child tax credit of $350 per year, beginning in 2014.

New York state Gov. Andrew Cuomo gave Albany and himself a collective back pat for a job well done.

"When I took office more than two years ago, New York was at a crossroads, with families and businesses leaving our state and a government that had lost the trust and confidence of the people," said Cuomo. "Year after year, the budgets were late, and the entire process had become a symbol for the dysfunction and chaos of Albany. We promised to build a new New York, and the 2013-14 Budget continues to deliver on this promise. With this budget, New York State is continuing to create good jobs, cut taxes for the middle class, lead the nation in education and civil rights reforms, and provide a model for a government that works."

Assemblyman Sheldon Silver said that it's important for the budget to be done on time and to address the most important issues he felt the state needed to face.

"This year's state budget addresses what have always been the Assembly Majority's core priorities," said Silver. "It makes the critical investments in public education, public health and affordable housing while honoring the moral obligation to preserve the social safety net. It funds infrastructure development and workforce training, while spurring job creation throughout the state and providing tax relief to hardworking middle-class families and small businesses.

"In addition, thanks to the persistence of the Assembly Majority, this budget ensures that tens of thousands of hardworking, minimum-wage-earning New Yorkers will be receiving much-deserved and badly needed raises in each of the next two years," Silver said.

The budget includes an approved incremental increase in minimum wage to $9 over the course of three years, but workers who rely mostly on tips for their income would still maintain their lower, existing minimum wage.

But some people felt other issues were overlooked in the newly-agreed upon budget. Gabriel Sayegh, director of the Drug Policy Alliance's New York Office, felt that legislators missed an opportunity for marijuana law reform.

"This is a profound failure of leadership in Albany," said Sayegh in a statement. "Why are the lives of Black and Latino young people not matters of urgent importance to leaders in Albany? Why are low income people in New York--especially people of color--always told to wait for reform, to wait for justice? The only thing we can conclude from this failure of leadership is that there isn't enough courage, sense or moral clarity in Albany to do the right thing. No more vacations, no more delays. Justice delayed is justice denied--we need reform, now."

Alfredo Carrasquillo, VOCAL-NY's civil rights community organizer added "Getting this done is a test for the political leadership in Albany that right now they are failing. It's time to stop delaying justice when it comes to ending racially biased and costly marijuana arrests."

But despite those objections, New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli felt Cuomo and company answered the challenge.

"New York faces an ongoing challenge maintaining budget balance amid slow economic growth and tax revenue that persistently lags projections," said DiNapoli. "The year ahead won't be an easy road. This budget does rely on significant non-recurring actions now and in the future. It also includes several new provisions that extend the state's reliance on public authority debt to meet the state's spending needs.

"New York's debt burden is among the highest in the nation, making the goals of meeting critical infrastructure needs while remaining within the state's debt caps more difficult," said DiNapoli.