Thursday, January 14, 2016

Cuomo calls for $100 billion in new construction, infrastructure projects; critics have questions

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo proposed limiting legislators’ outside incomes, closing a loophole that allowed companies to ignore campaign-contribution limits and allow early voting, as part of an ethics package offered in the wake of the recent convictions of top New York lawmakers.

Cuomo, in his annual State of the State speech, also proposed a $1 billion increase in school aid as part of a plan to add $2 billion to education over the next two years. And he proposed making New York City taking the brunt of “cost savings” proposals in his 2016-17 financial plan.

The Democrat also proposed:
  • Raising the state minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2021, allowing “paid family leave” and offsetting it with $300 million in business tax cuts.
  • Growing state spending about 2 percent.
  • Restoring school funds cut amid the Great Recession by eliminating the “gap elimination adjustment” part of education aid.
  • Raising State University of New York tuition $300 per year for each of the next five years, an extension of a policy launched in 2011.
  • Freezing tolls on the state Thruway.
  • Enacting the “Dream Act,” which would allow children of undocumented immigrants to apply for state-run college-tuition aid programs.
  • Raising the age of criminal responsibility from 16 to 18 and reforming bail policies.
  • Legalizing mixed-martial arts matches in New York.

In his sixth State of the State address, Cuomo, who in his first year sought to freeze state spending, this year called for $100 billion in new construction and infrastructure projects.

“It’s a redevelopment program that would make Governor Rockefeller jealous,” the governor said.
Cuomo has spent the weeklong run-up to the address rolling out large-scale construction proposals, such as adding a third Long Island Rail Road track that runs to Hicksville; expanding the Javits Center for more convention space and overhauling Penn Station in Manhattan; and spending $22 billion on upstate roads and bridges.

Critics have said Cuomo hasn’t explained how the state will come up with the money for these projects, how much it would have to borrow and how soon any of the debts from the proposed projects would come do. They’ve also have noted that some of the items aren’t top priorities for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (such as the LIRR third track) and are dusted off ideas from the past (a Long Island Sound tunnel).

This year’s budget proposal is expected to come in at around $150 billion, including a previously made promise to raise education spending 4 percent, to about $24.4 billion.

Cuomo’s move to the political left has chafed some in the Republican-led Senate, which was a key backer of his fiscally conservative first two years in office. Some senators said the governor is trying to outflank de Blasio on the political left.

“He’s trying to out-de Blasio, de Blasio at every turn,” Sen. John DeFrancisco (R-Syracuse) said in a radio interview this week. “It’s almost getting comical at this point. The fact is, during his first term, the governor was fiscally conservative and I thought he did a great job ... But it seems since de Blasio got on the scene, it seems a trigger was pulled and that trigger pulled him to the left.”

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