CAPITOL – Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Tuesday outlined an extensive progressive agenda -- including legalizing recreational marijuana -- for the coming legislative session, but he also called for continuing to phase in a middle-class tax cut and making a tax cap on local government permanent.
Delivering his annual State of the State speech and budget presentation at the Empire State Center for the Performing Arts, Cuomo said those moves are to counter federal policies he says hurt New Yorkers, like the new federal limit on property tax deductions.
Cuomo's proposal would continue a series of state income tax cuts for households earning $40,000 to $150,000, with rates dropping to 6.21 percent in the $43,000- $161,550 income bracket, and to 6.49 percent in the $161,550-$323,200 income bracket. By 2025, the rates are to drop to 5.5 percent for those earning under $150,000, and 6 percent for those earning $150,000 to $300,000.
Cuomo said this year's cuts would cost the state $1.8 billion in reduced tax revenue, but he called it necessary to keep the middle class in New York state. “I believe if we don’t keep our middle class and do something about their taxes, in the long term, we will have a problem," Cuomo said.
On the other hand, the 8.82 percent income tax rate for high-income taxpayers (above $1 million for individuals, $2 million for households), originally enacted in 2011, would be extended for five years through 2024.
Cuomo also proposed making permanent the 2 percent property tax cap on local governments, which has been in place on a temporary basis since 2011.
Local government leaders, however, are already unhappy with the tax cap, saying their costs keep rising without any increases in state assistance.
"Any proposal to make the tax cap permanent must also take into account the fact that municipal aid has not increased in 10 years, and infrastructure funding through the Consolidated Local Street and Highway Improvement Program has not kept pace with inflation," said Gerry Geist, executive director of the New York State Association of Towns.
But Schenectady County Legislature Majority Leader Gary Hughes tweeted his support. "Local gov't is certainly squeezed but the pressure is from un-funded mandates from state and Feds," he wrote. "Tax cap provides needed discipline in employee bargaining and other spending. It is s good thing."
Speaking for 90 minutes before a crowd that frequently cheered his progressive visions, Cuomo outlined a legislative agenda -- what he called a "Justice Agenda" -- covering issues including protection of abortion rights, adoption of the Child Victims Act to allow adults to sue over childhood sex abuse, and a "Red Flag Law," which would ban bump sticks and extend the waiting period for purchasing a gun from three days to 10 days.
Cuomo praised the potential for passage of a lot of significant legislation, with mainstream Democrats in control of both houses of the state Legislature for the first time in decades.
“My friends, we can make history. I believe that. We can have the most productive first 100 days in state history," Cuomo told an audience that included many of those legislators.
Already, the Legislature on Monday approved a package of voting rights reforms, and on Tuesday approved approved GENDA, a package of laws that protects transgender rights.
“We have the most progressive state government in the United States," Cuomo asserted.
As part of his $175 billion budget proposal, Cuomo outlined a "Green New Deal," which calls for promotion of clean energy, including generating all the state's electricity from renewable sources by 2040. He also proposed spending an additional $2.5 billion on local water and sewer infrastructure, bringing the total the state has committed in the last two years to $5 billion.
The budget proposes establishing a $10 billion Green Future Fund, including the clean water money along with $3 billion for renewable energy and clean transportation projects, and $2 billion for parks, public lands and resiliency improvements. A higher education consortium led by the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry would look for innovative clean tech solutions to climate change problems, including forestry carbon storage and ways to combat invasive species.
“It is our generational obligation to leave this place better than we found it," Cuomo said.
His proposals were praised by environmental groups.
“Governor Cuomo’s Green New Deal puts New York in the forefront of protecting its citizens and addressing the most significant environmental threat we face — climate change. Scenic Hudson is proud to partner with the governor to advance his bold and visionary proposals,” said Scenic Hudson President Ned Sullivan.
Some local Republican legislators, however, said that Cuomo's larger agenda -- aid to the Metropolitican Transit Authority and New York City infrastructure projects -- is too focused on downstate issues.
“New York’s budget is among the largest in the nation, and while I approve of some of the topics touched on today, such as a permanent property tax cap and increasing education funding, I fear that the direction of this agenda is not one that all New Yorkers can get behind," said Assemblywoman Mary Beth Walsh, R-Ballston.
“Taxpayers are hurting and continue leaving New York in record numbers," state Sen. Daphne Jordan, R-Halfmoon. "It’s not because of the weather, but due to our high taxes, crushing high cost of living and lack of good-paying jobs, especially upstate. I didn’t hear enough from the governor today about an agenda that will reverse this destructive trend."