Deals near on SUNY tuition, rich tax

ALBANY, N.Y. -- A potential state budget deal may include a two-year extension of the millionaires' tax, higher tuition assistance for SUNY students and an incentive to encourage local governments to share services, lawmakers said Tuesday.

The sides were still working out the final pieces of a roughly $152 billion budget after the April 1 deadline passed without an agreement in place.
 
But lawmakers expressed renewed optimism that a spending plan could be voted on this week, and they detailed some of the tentative parameters.
 
"I’m ready to work. I’m ready to stay. If there’s any hope of getting it done, I’m all for it," said Sen. Rich Funke, R-Perinton, Monroe County.
 
SUNY Tuition
 
The budget, according to lawmakers, may include tuition assistance of up to $5,500 for SUNY students whose income is below $125,000; the proposal would be phased in over three years. Private schools would also get a boost to so-called TAP, the state's Tuition Assistance Program.
 
The measure would be a compromise with Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who proposed free SUNY tuition for all students over three years for those whose household income is less than $125,000. Current SUNY tuition is $6,470.
 
"The magic word for me is affordability," Sen. Terrence Murphy, R-Yorktown, Westchester County, said. "We now have more student loan debt in America than credit-card debt. Kids are coming out of college, and they are swamped."
 
How the state would pay for the increase was uncertain. Cuomo put the cost of his plan at $163 million, but lawmakers estimated it would be much higher.
 
One of the proposals called for the state taking about 10 percent from the SUNY colleges' foundation to pay for the increase in TAP, which now caps out at $500 aid for those who earn $80,000. But college presidents have opposed the measure.
 
Millionaires' tax
 
One way the state wants to balance the books is to retain a higher income-tax on New Yorkers who earn more than $1 million a year. It would be a two-year extender of the current tax rate, which brings in more than $3 billion in a year to the state's coffers.
 
That too would be a compromise: Cuomo wanted to keep the same rate; Democrats wanted it increased, and Republicans wanted to let it expire at year's end.
 
"Where they use most of the money for the millionaires’ tax is for school aid, which I support," Murphy said.
 
Speaking Tuesday at the scene of a barge accident in Catskill, about an hour south of the Capitol, Cuomo said he and lawmakers were close to a budget deal.
 
But he warned against a rush to get an agreement, saying government will continue to function after an emergency budget extender was passed Monday by the Legislature.
 
“There’s conceptual agreement on a number of pieces of the budget,” Cuomo said.
 
He said the sides are still negotiating several components: increasing the criminal age of responsibility from 16 to 18; approving affordable housing in New York City; and boosting school aid.
Shared-services plan
 
Cuomo has been pushing a plan that would require local governments to convene and come up with a plan to share services. The plan would then go to voters in November for approval.
 
But the latest compromise, according to lawmakers and a draft of the bill obtained by the USA Today Network's Albany Bureau, would not require a public vote.
 
Instead, local governments would have to create a shared-services panel with municipal leaders and school districts. The panel would come up with a proposal, and then it would need unanimous approval by the county's governing board.
 
If approved, the county could apply for a state matching grant on whatever the proposed local savings would come from the new shared services.
 
"What it’s doing is forcing people to talk --- with an incentive to reach a conclusion," said Assemblyman Tom Abinanti, D-Greenburgh, Westchester County.
 
Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, D-Bronx, also confirmed the framework of the shared-services measure, saying lawmakers appear comfortable with the arrangement.
 
Local leaders have largely opposed Cuomo's plan, saying they already share services and shouldn't be forced to bring a new plan to voters.
 
"It was just trying to get the local towns and villages and counties to see if they could come up with suggestions to consolidate services so we can lower property taxes," Heastie said.
 
"But I think it moved to a point where the members are OK on it."
 

 

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