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Why’s the state budget late?

GOP reps say Democratic wealth tax debate held up budget

(Enterprise photos — Aaron Cerbone)

The state budget is five days past its April 1 deadline, and Republican North Country legislators say lengthy negotiations between Democratic legislators — among themselves and with the Democratic governor — is the reason.

Today, legislators will likely already have seen all budget bills, and they may vote on them today.

Sen. Dan Stec, R-Queensbury, and Assemblyman Matt Simpson, R-Horicon, said the main points of contention have been over proposed $5 billion tax increases on the wealthy and a $2 billion fund of COVID-19 aid for undocumented immigrants and people formerly incarcerated for felonies. Moderate and progressive Democrats are hashing out the details of these plans, which both Stec and Simpson said they have issues with.

The budget will likely be over $200 billion, according to Stec.

He said minority Republicans in the Senate and Assembly haven’t seen many details on the budget yet. They’ve voted on one of the 10 bills and have seen four others, but the second half of the budget was not yet known to them as of Monday afternoon.

These minority legislators said they get information about what’s going on from staff and colleagues in the know, but mostly from Albany newspapers.

Stec said the later bills, specifically the revenue bill, are the big ones. He called the revenue bill a “catch-all” for policies and budget items that can’t be agreed on in smaller bills, as it holds more leverage to be passed.

Simpson, in his first budgetary process as a state legislator, questioned if the process was “working or not.”

He was surprised at the lack of transparency minority legislators have in the budgeting process. He said the GOP does not have much time to read the bills between the time they’re released and when they vote on them. Still, he said the budget should be passed soon.

“I’m looking forward to getting into session as soon as we can and getting this budget,” Simpson said. “We owe it to the taxpayers. It should’ve been done on time.”

He said, from his perspective, lengthy negotiating between Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Democratic majority leaders has led to the holdup.

Stec also said the delay was internal between the governor and his fellow Democrats.

“They didn’t invite us (Republicans) to the fight,” he said. “They know where we stand.”

Democrats hold a majority in both houses of state government.

Taxes

Stec and Simpson both cited proposed tax hikes on the wealthy as the big sticking point in the budget negotiations. They said there is division within the Democratic Party on this topic, with progressives pushing for higher taxes on high earners, and Cuomo and moderate legislators trying to keep the increases low.

“Traditionally, the governor’s been heavy on the fiscal side of not raising taxes,” Simpson said.

Stec said the proposed $5 billion tax increase is a compromise between Cuomo’s $2 billion and progressives’ $7 billion.

Stec and Simpson said they do not support raising taxes on the wealthy, adding that some New York Democrats feel the same way.

“I agree with (Democratic U.S. Sen.) Chuck Schumer. That’s saying something,” Stec said. “If somebody says, ‘Oh that’s just Dan being a Republican, talking the Republican Party line,’ Chuck Schumer agrees we don’t need to raise taxes.”

He and Schumer said the state has received a lot of money from the federal government in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which they say means the state does not need to raise taxes. He said “super-progressive” representatives from cities, who have a larger influence on the legislature now than before, are pushing for increasing wealth taxes.

“They’re just hellbent on millionaires tax and taxing the ultra-rich,” Stec said. “It seems like it’s a point of pride (for them). I don’t even know if it’s driven by math as much as it is ideology.”

“That’s not a very good thing for New York state,” Simpson said.

Stec said rich people have enough resources to move away and take their taxable wealth and companies with them if they feel the tax increases are too large.

“You’re taxing job creators,” he said.

He said progressive representatives have more political power now that Cuomo has been “weakened” by scandals including sexual harassment allegations and underreporting of COVID-19-related deaths in nursing homes.

“He’s on the political ropes,” Stec said. “He’s not in a position to put his foot down and say ‘No,’ and they know it.”

Excluded Worker Fund

Stec also said a point of contention in the budget process has been a proposed Excluded Worker Fund, which would provide $2 billion to undocumented immigrants and people formerly incarcerated for felonies who were not able to find work and did not receive federal aid during the pandemic.

Progressives want to that fund to be higher, other Democrats are satisfied with where it is. Stec said despite its positive-sounding name, he opposes spending $2 billion on the fund.

The plan would provide a weekly unemployment benefit of $600 retroactively applied to March 27 to July 31, 2020, and a weekly benefit of $300 from Aug. 1, 2020, to Sept. 6, 2021. A total benefit could be as much as $27,900.

“Their plan is another example of progressives catering to people who break the rules,” Stec wrote in a press release.

Stec said other programs, like the $4 million Joseph P. Dwyer program for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injuries, always take a fight with Cuomo to get funded. He was confused with how easy it was to get $2 billion for the EWF approved.

“We’ve got to fight to take care of veterans, to get $4 million. But then we’re going to turn around and spend $2 billion plus on illegals and on felons?” Stec said. “I mean, hey, I get it. They’re people, too. Don’t get me wrong. But I think they’re a different category of people as opposed to our disabled veterans.”

He said he’d support the fund if it spent less money.

“They’ve stepped out of reality,” Stec said of progressives. “$2 billion for those populations? Forget it.”

EPF

Stec and Simpson both support the state spending $400 million on the Environmental Protection Fund, which has steadily increased in its annual allotment.

Simpson said this funding is “unprecedented,” and Stec said the fund “does a lot of good work.”

Simpson, however, said some of that money should be spent on state Department of Environmental Conservation staff. He said this department has the ability to protect the environment and desperately needs more forest rangers. The EPF is for capitol projects, not staff.

Marijuana

Stec voted against the recent bill legalizing adult-use recreational marijuana, but he said he was pleased this was done outside of the budget.

“It got its own vote on its own merit,” he said.

Too often, he said budget funding is used as leverage to pass policies.

Meanwhile …

Simpson said while the budget is held up, other legislative duties are held up, too, including ones to help people. Simpson mentioned $2.4 billion in federal money the state has for tenants and landlords. He said there is currently no plan to get this money out, and if it is not used by September, the state will have to return it to the federal government.

“We needed to do something for tenants. I’m not being critical of that. We passed a lot of legislation protecting these tenants from being on the street, basically. But the landlords, there hasn’t been a lot. They’ve had to pay the utility bills … and their mortgage and their taxes.”

Stec also said the state has been slow to resume contractually obligated pay raises for state workers after Cuomo froze them during the pandemic last year.

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