ALBANY – Governor Andrew Cuomo Wednesday delivered a combined State of the State address and budget proposal totaling $141.6 billion for the upcoming fiscal year. The governor packaged both the state of the state and the budget rollout into a one-of-a-kind presentation he calls the 2015 Opportunity Agenda.
During his presentation, the governor revealed his approach to two of the most pressing topics of the political season – public education and criminal justice reform.
One of the highlights of his education funding plan is to link $1.1 billion to the passage of several reforms including teacher evaluations and the current cap on charter schools. If the state legislature chooses not to approve the reforms, school aid funding would go up by just $377 million – which is the amount it’s set to rise based on the state’s regular formula.
The budget also includes Cuomo’s plan for spending $5 billion in financial settlement funds that represent a one-time shot of cash. Just over $3 billion would go to infrastructure and other investments, including $1.3 billion to help the Thruway Authority hold tolls steady while paying for part of the new Tappan Zee Bridge replacement project.
Another $1.5 billion of the financial settlement funds is earmarked for Cuomo’s proposed upstate revitalization competition, while $850 million would pay down federal expenses.
CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM
The governor also spent a large portion of his presentation on reforming the state’s Criminal justice system – which has been a focus of his administration since a Staten Island grand jury decided late last year not to indict a New York City police officer in the choking death of Eric Garner.
Cuomo also proposed a seven-point justice agenda that included the establishment of an independent monitor to review cases of police-involved unarmed civilian deaths and potentially recommend to the governor a special prosecutor for such cases; allowing district attorneys to issue a grand jury reports for such cases; and funding replacement bulletproof vests, body cameras and bulletproof glass for police cruisers.
As for building the state economy, Cuomo said that holding the line on state spending at 2 percent and lowering property taxes are both essential. The governor said it was local property taxes — not corporate income taxes — that was killing the business environment in the state. The governor is proposing a $1.66 billion property tax credit program that would result in an average savings of $781 for over half a million upstaters who qualify.
Cuomo would further increase the minimum wage, now set at $8.75 per hour and slated to rise to $9 per hour next year, to $11.50 in New York City and $10.50 elsewhere in the state by 2017.
He also suggested lowering the income tax rates on small businesses from 6.5 percent to 2.5 percent over a three-year period.
Many pieces of Cuomo’s speech were revealed in a steady stream of leaks and news conferences over the past week, including his property tax credit program, a new minimum wage boost and the establishment of a legislative/executive pay commission.