From increased education spending, to proposed new revenue generation ideas to whether legalizing marijuana is in the state's best interest, state lawmakers representing Western New York districts offered various opinions on the details of the budget proposal revealed Tuesday by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Albany faces a $4.4 billion deficit and Cuomo, in his remarks, pointed to the federal government and its recently-passed tax code reform. Cuomo said it puts New York under attack by going after the ability to claim property tax deductions.
Assemblymember Ray Walter says the blame for New York's fiscal problems lies directly on the governor himself. He says his budget fails to recognize that change is needed.
"We tax too much and spend too much," said Walter. "That's the problem here in the State of New York. Until we fix that problem and fundamentally redesign the way we're doing government, and really take on the big tough issues, that's going to be the problem this state faces. That's why we've lost over a million people since 2010 to other states."
Assemblymember Angelo Morinello said he was pleased that the governor recognizes the state has a problem with its significant deficit. Like Walter, though, Morinello believes Cuomo falls short in addressing the state's spending habits. He says more needs to be done to analyze that spending to find and weed out the waste.
"We need to look internally to see what is actually happening with the taxpayer dollars," Morinello said. "It'll be interesting, as we go forward, to start analyzing, looking at and examining the budget proposals put forth."
Cuomo's budget proposal includes numerous ideas that he believes will offset losses from federal tax reform effects. They include an employer tax and a change to law that would allow New Yorkers to claim contributions to state-run charities as deductions. State Sen. Chris Jacobs is concerned about some of the changes and "one-shots" that Cuomo's budget uses to generate dollars.
"There was one major chunk that was going to come as a one-time shot from a conversion of a healthcare entity from a non-profit to a for-profit," Jacobs said. "When I hear one-time revenue shot, that concerns me as far as good budgeting practices."
Jacobs, meanwhile, praised the governor for the increased education spending in his budget. Assemblymember Crystal Peoples-Stokes praised the increases to healthcare, including raises for direct care providers.
"Direct care workers work with the most vulnerable of our population every day," she said. "To not be able to pay them a fair wage and keep them working, I think, is a disservice to those who are disabled in our community. I was happy to hear that."
Peoples-Stokes said where New York State need not bother to spend money is on the committee Cuomo proposed to study whether legalizing marijuana would be a benefit to New York State. She suggested there is enough information and research already completed that concludes it would be good for the state. Among her concerns is that with neighboring states and Province of Ontario about to welcome legalized pot, many would-be tourists would spend more time and dollars outside of the state.
Another question raised was whether the state's budget deficit and the need to close it might slow down New York's investments in Western New York's economic redevelopment.
"My understanding is that if we can commit to staying under the two percent growth rate in state government, which I think is perfectly reasonable and which we have mandated local governments do with the property tax cap, if we do that we cut the $4.4 billion deficit down to $1.7 billion," Jacobs said. "It's still large but it's much more manageable. I think the answer is we can continue to keep our momentum going. New York plays a part but there are other factors, things we have done in Western New York to get our economy going. Those will continue forward."
Peoples-Stokes believes New York will remain committed to upstate investment.
"In actuality, if the state maintains its investment in the upstate economy, it actually gets a pretty good return on that investment," she replied. "The more money people make, the more they pay to serve the government where they live. The same thing with businesses."
Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown, also state Democratic Party chair, praised Cuomo's leadership.
"This bold agenda will continue the growth of our economy by infusing critical funding into the investments that have helped transform Western New York and the City of Buffalo, while also focusing on important initiatives that will protect taxpayers and increase opportunity for youth through jobs and employment programs," Brown said. "Many of the elements of this budget will help create an even stronger New York."
Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster, also a Democrat, focused on the environment in his statement:
“Governor Cuomo has been a national leader in the fight to protect and preserve the environment from the effects of climate change. While Washington looks to roll back protections, New York State doubled down on our efforts to secure a clean energy future. This executive budget includes critical funding initiatives that will not only preserve New York’s world class parks and beaches, but ensure clean water and air for communities statewide. Governor Cuomo continues to work for all New Yorkers, taking the steps to make a better and greener state for years to come.”
Lawmakers face an April 1 deadline to approve a state budget plan.