State Has Interesting Spending Proposal

I doubt that many people have been keeping track of the various moves and shenanigans that have been going on in Albany relative to the state budget. Most citizens don’t care much unless it hits them directly in the pocket book. Yet, as an old-time observer of Albany budget-making, I found it especially interesting this year. After a lot of arm-twisting and compromise, the state legislature worked through the last day of the fiscal year (Sunday, the 31st of March) finally passing a budget for 2019-2020 on Monday, April Fool’s Day.

The Governor was more in charge than ever this year. Under a court ruling made several years ago, he can now put all kinds of legislative and social policy changes into his budget. So, this year the budget was a real “mish-mash” of legislative changes combined with spending and tax proposals.

For example, the budget has a provision for “congestion pricing” in New York City to discourage car traffic in Manhattan, but the measure was also designed to bring a lot of money into government coffers. If you travel by car below 60th Street, you are going to be charged a hefty fee of over $10 per day. The new revenue is supposed go toward fixing up the dilapidated subway and train system in the metro region. Some people from the region, including the Governor of New Jersey, are calling it a “rip-off,” but then people from New Jersey don’t get to vote in Albany.

There is also a ban on plastic bags in the budget and some “window dressing” legislation aimed at trying to get more oversight of the money being spent on the state’s economic development programs. In my view, the issue of trying to reduce the use of plastics in our society is laudable. The question is: did Albany find a workable solution in the rush to get it into the state budget?

There was also a provision in the budget allowing the closure of two or three Upstate prisons. Local government officials are worried this will likely reduce good-paying jobs in the areas affected.

There were also some “social issue” decisions that got taken out of the budget. There had been hopes of a big windfall of new tax dollars from marijuana sales. Now, the legislature and Governor will take that up as an issue separate from the budget. That is probably a good idea because there are legitimate concerns over the impact of legalizing marijuana and how, if legalized, the State should properly regulate the sale and use of it.

There had been hopes downstate that more gambling casinos could be opened in New York City. That also got thrown out of the budget, one of the concerns being that a lot of the Upstate casinos (which were supposed to be the answer for Upstate growth and jobs) are already struggling to make a profit.

As is normally the case, the largest single budget item was for financial aid to school districts. School districts don’t know what their spending plan can be until they get “computer runs” based on the state aid formula. The “fail-safe” of having Republicans protect Upstate in this process is over because the GOP is now a weakened minority in both houses of the legislature.

So once again the great State of New York has passed its budget to try and cover all of the public’s needs and desires. Just hang on to your wallet. You might not know what it is going to cost you until we get a little further down the road!

Rolland Kidder is a Stow resident.