Little, Jones highlight state budget proposals

State Sen. Betty Little says her chamber’s budget plan calls for an increase in school aid, tax relief and workers compensation reform to help small businesses.

It would also set aside billions of dollars for clean water and sewer projects throughout the state.

Assemblyman Billy Jones, meanwhile, says the Assembly budget proposal would help grow the economy, give North Country communities the resources they need and invest in agriculture programs.

The Republican-led Senate and the Democratic Assembly announced competing budget proposals last week.

The details will be worked out in negotiations between top lawmakers and Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has his own $152 state budget proposal.

Senate plan

“Today marks another important step in the budget process, our chance to offer alternatives to the governor’s budget based on what our constituents have told us,” said Little, R-Queensbury, in a press release.

Little said the Senate plan would reverse changes made last year to the STAR, or school property tax relief program that created confusion and caused the delay of payments to local taxpayers.

It also rejects a number of tax and fee increases proposed by the governor, including new Department of Motor Vehicles fees, new taxes on internet purchases and a new surcharge on pre-paid cell phones.

Little said she and her colleagues are advancing workers’ compensation reforms sought by small businesses, such as updates to duration caps and schedule loss of use awards.

Under the Senate plan, school aid funding would increase five percent over last year, for a total of $1.2 billion, bringing the total investment in schools to a record level of $25.4 billion.

Little said the Senate proposal would also make college more affordable for more

students, regardless of whether they attend a public or private college in the state, by increasing the minimum Tuition Assistance Program award from $500 to $3,000 and the maximum to $5,500. Income thresholds would also be increased to $100,000 in 2017-18; $110,000 in 2018-19; and $125,000 in 2019-20.

Another Senate proposal would set aside nearly $8 billion to address water quality issues and infrastructure needs. This includes: creation of a new $5 billion Clean Water Bond Act; support for the proposed $2 billion for clean water infrastructure; establishment of a new Drinking Water Quality Institute; and creation of the Emerging Contamination Monitoring Act.

Little said she and her colleagues are also proposing $45 million annually to compensate direct care professionals who care for individuals with disabilities.

Assembly plan

Jones, D-Chateaugay, said his chamber’s plan rejects a proposal from Cuomo that would require counties and municipalities to put a shared services plan on the November ballot.

During a recent district tour, Jones said residents and local officials he spoke to didn’t support this mandate. Instead, the Assembly plan provides $715 million in aid to local governments – $50 million more than the governor’s proposal.

“The Assembly developed a proposal that puts municipalities first and makes sure they can continue offering vital services,” Jones said in a press release.

The Assembly budget proposal provides $90 million for the Restore New York Communities Initiative, including $10 million to address vacant and abandoned properties. The proposal also provides $10 million for workforce development programs.

The Assembly’s proposal includes an initial $45 million toward a six-year plan to create a living wage for direct care workers.

“Direct Care Services are in crisis mode in the North Country,” Jones said. “We need to make sure that we are providing adequate pay and able to stabilize the retention of direct support professionals.”

Jones said the Assembly’s budget proposal reduces the income tax rate for small businesses earning $290,000 or less from 6.5 percent to 4 percent for corporate filers. It also allows personal income tax filers, such as sole proprietors, farmers and partnerships, to deduct 15 percent of their adjusted gross income before the personal income tax rate is applied, up from the current 5 percent deduction. The proposal would also double all research and development tax credits.

The plan would expand eligibility for the Excelsior Jobs Program and increase tax credits for certain participants, which Jones said would help people looking to start a new business or grow a business in the state.

To upgrade roads and bridges, the Assembly budget proposal would increase funding for the Consolidated Local Street and Highway Improvement Program (CHIPS) to $488 million, a $50 million increase from the proposed executive budget.

  The budget proposal also sets aside funds for an array of agricultural programs, including child care for migrant farm workers, a tractor rollover protection program, farm family assistance and agricultural research. The Adirondack North Country Association Farm-to-School program will receive $300,000 to support initiatives that supply local food to schools.

On the education front, the Assembly budget plan rejects the governor’s proposal to repeal the Foundation Aid formula, instead phasing in total aid over the course of four years, adjusting and updating the formula and increasing Foundation Aid by $1.4 billion for the 2017-18 school year for a total of $17.8 billion.

It would increase the maximum TAP award $335 to $5,500 per year and up to $6,500 over four years. The Assembly plan also allocates $40 million for part-time TAP at community colleges across the state. This would allow students with family and other obligations to attend college on their own schedule, Jones said.

The Senate and Assembly will soon convene joint conference committees, which will work to reconcile differences between the budget proposals of both houses. A final budget vote is expected by April 1.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.