Photo Courtesy of Mike Groll/Office of the Governor
By Michael V. Cusenza
Calling the $168.3 billion plan a “bold blueprint for progressive action,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo late Friday night detailed the highlights of the State Fiscal Year 2019 Budget.
“With this budget, we chart a path forward and ever upwards toward a better future for all New Yorkers,” Cuomo said of the balanced agenda.
Highlights of the FY19 plan include:
• Protects residents from negative federal tax implications with new State tax code.
• Continues the phase-in of the $4.2 billion Middle Class Tax Cut, saving households $250 on average and $700 annually when fully effective.
• Increases Education Aid by approximately $1 billion (3.9 percent), to a record total of $26.7 billion for the 2018-19 school year.
• Requires school districts to provide information on how they allocate funding to schools in order to increase transparency.
• Invests $25 million to expand pre-Kindergarten and after-school programs.
• Implements “the nation’s most aggressive” program to combat sexual harassment.
• Extends the storage timeline for forensic rape kits from 30 days to 20 years.
• Institutes landmark protections to ensure New York’s elections remain free from outside influence and cyber attacks.
• Provides new $250 million investment to the New York City Housing Authority to deliver quality living conditions to tenants and implements new oversight measures by statute and executive order.
• Includes design/build legislation to expedite the construction of new jails to replace the Rikers Island jail complex, the reconstruction of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, and NYCHA projects.
• Provides $7.6 billion in State support for higher education.
• Invests $118 million to continue the Excelsior Scholarship – the Empire State’s tuition-free SUNY/CUNY college degree program.
• Includes $1.2 billion for strategic programs to make college more affordable and encourage the best and brightest students to build their future in New York.
• Establishes a first-in-the-nation opioid stewardship payment on manufacturers and distributors of opioids to fund the fight against the addiction epidemic.
• Fully funds the Subway Action Plan – provides that New York City will fund half of $836 million plan in order to make immediate repairs to improve subway performance and maintenance.
• Enacts $2.75 surcharge on for-hire vehicles, including both yellow and green cabs, and rideshare companies like Uber and Lyft, south of 96th Street in Manhattan to help ease congestion and establish a long-term funding stream for Big Apple public transportation.
• Expands the current City Bus Camera program, expands the time of day such camera programs may operate, and directs the installation of at least 50 new traffic-monitoring cameras to enforce bus lane violations that impede mass transit service and create congestion.
State Sen. Joe Addabbo, Jr. (D-Howard Beach) praised the on-time budget, especially its focus on school funding, transportation, and tax help for the middle class. However, the Queens pol decried the stark lack of transparency and inclusivity in the budget process, which severely hampered negotiations on important issues.
“The FY 2019 budget fails to find more ways to protect LGBTQ New Yorkers; deal with climate change, including meeting the Diesel Emissions Standards set forward by the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act; adequately help our local municipalities and increase our Aid and Incentives for Municipalities funding; or pass the Child Victims Act to address the need to provide justice to sexual abuse survivors, among other issues,” Addabbo added.
But the senator said he was pleased to see a record increase in education funding in the this year’s agenda.
“Education funding is vitally important in keeping our schools open and running well. This nearly $1 billion in Education Aid in the FY 2019 budget is a boon to New York schools, along with $25 million for pre-K and after-school programs which will not only help children and students, but parents as well,” said Addabbo, the ranking member of the Senate Education Committee. “However, it isn’t just the young students that enjoyed increases in education funding. The State has invested $118 million to continue the higher education Excelsior Scholarship program, and $1.2 billion for strategic programs that aim to make college more affordable for all New Yorkers.”
Cuomo underscored this budget’s tools to help combat sexual harassment in the workplace:
• Require all state contractors to submit an affirmation that they have a sexual harassment policy and that they have trained all of their employees.
• Prohibit employers from using a mandatory arbitration provision in an employment contract in relation to sexual harassment.
• Require officers and employees of the State or of any public entity to reimburse the State for any state or public payment made upon a judgment of intentional wrongdoing related to sexual harassment.
• Ensure that nondisclosure agreements can only be used when the condition of confidentiality is the explicit preference of the victim.
“We put into place the strongest and most comprehensive anti-sexual harassment protections in the nation, ending once and for all the secrecy and coercive practices that have enabled this unacceptable behavior for far too long,” the governor said.