Budget deal: Uber upstate, free SUNY tuition

Budget Agreement Reached In Albany

ALBANY -- Ride-hailing services will be coming to upstate and income-eligible students will get free SUNY tuition under a state budget agreement announced Friday night.
 
The deal, hastily announced by Gov. Andrew Cuomo at the Capitol, ended a weeklong impasse, marking the longest delay of a budget's passage in Cuomo's seven-year tenure.
 
"We are pleased to announce we have an agreement on the budget," Cuomo told reporters in the ornate Red Room.
 
The agreement includes allowing upstate to have ride-hailing services, likely to start this summer. 
 
Upstate leaders and the companies have long pushed a change in state law to let them operate outside New York City.
 
“Hey, New York - your Uber is arriving this summer!" the company said in a statement.
 
The Democratic-led Assembly planned to work through the night to pass the final budget. The Republican-controlled Senate was expected back in the coming days.
 
Lawmakers do not get paid until a budget is approved, and sticking points came up throughout the week. The budget was due March 31.
 
Ride hailing
 
After being unable to reach a deal last year to allow companies like Uber and Lyft to operate outside the city, Cuomo and lawmakers were able to find a compromise this year.
 
The agreement creates a statewide system to regulate the industry, giving oversight to the state Department of Motor Vehicles.
 
The companies will need to have insurance coverage levels of at least $1.25 million per ride, and there will be regulations to ensure drivers pass background checks and substance-abuse tests.
 
Rides are also expected to include a 4 percent sales tax, and counties and large upstate cities could opt out of the law,
 
The state will also create a board to review the law as it is implemented. The law is expected to take effect in 90 days.
 
Tuition at SUNY
 
SUNY tuition, now $6,470 a year, would be free starting this fall for households earning less than $100,000 a year. Then the eligibility would grow to $110,000 in 2018 and $125,000 in 2019.
 
Cuomo's office said about 940,000 families would be eligible for the free tuition. There would be additional tuition assistance to help private colleges in New York, and $8 million to pay for e-books for students.
 
"By making college at our world-class public universities tuition-free, we have established a national model for access to higher education, and achieved another New York first," Cuomo said in a news release.
 
As for the state's nearly 700 public schools, the budget provides a $1.1 billion increase in aid, which is a 4.4 percent hike and slightly more than Cuomo proposed in January. School aid will total $25.8 billion.
 
Charter-school funding -- which had been set to increase $1,500 per student in June -- would see a small increase this year, with future increases linked to funding increases for public school districts.
 
The budget includes a two-year extension of the current income-tax rate for millionaires, which brings in about $3.4 billion a year in revenue to the state.
 
Senate Republicans wanted to let the tax expire; Assembly Democrats wanted it to increase.
 
And as part of an agreement reached last year, a middle class tax cut was preserved in this year's deal: a $250 on average break starting in 2018.
 
"The product of hard work and compromise, our state spending plan meets the needs of middle-class taxpayers and their families and advances key initiatives to make our state more affordable," Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, R-Suffolk County, said in a statement.
 
Raise the age
 
The budget also resolves one of the thorniest issues in negotiations: raising the age of criminal responsibility for youth aged 16 and 17.
 
Republicans, Democrats and Cuomo all had differing views on how to change the controversial law -- which is only on the books in New York and North Carolina.
 
The final package would move young people who commit non-violent crimes to a new youth court, and then in most cases, the cases would end up in family court -- with the permission of local prosecutors. The most violent cases would stay in criminal court.
 
The change would take effect starting Oct. 1, 2018: when the age of criminal responsibility would increase from 16 to 17. It would go to age 18 on Oct. 1 2019, Cuomo's office said.
 
In another change, 16 and 17 year-olds would not be housed in adult prisons or county jails. They would go to juvenile detention facilities, and their criminal records would be sealed if they stay crime free for 10 years, Cuomo's office said.
 
"We are confident that this is the beginning a new and brighter chapter for the future of our youth," Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, D-Bronx, said in a statement.
 
Local governments
 
Cuomo initially proposed to require local governments to develop a shared-services plan and take the plan to voters in November.
 
But the referendum, which was opposed by many municipal leaders, wasn't included in the final plan. Instead, counties would need to assemble local governments, hold public hearings and vote themselves on the shared-services plan.
 
The aim, Cuomo said, is to force municipalities to cut costs and lower property taxes.
 
"I think this is going to be political accountability on steroids," Cuomo said.
 
In another fiscal move, Cuomo landed more flexibility if Washington cuts the state budget. Cuomo has warned that the Trump administration might make cuts to the state's funding for social services and Medicaid.
 
The state budget would allow New York's budget director to develop a plan for spending reductions, if federal cuts exceed $850 million.
The plan would take effect within 90 days, unless the Legislature takes its own actions, Cuomo's office said.
 
Other measures
 
The budget also includes $2.5 billion over five years to upgrade the state's water systems, as well as reforms to the state's workers' compensation laws.
 
The state's 120,000 home-care workers will get a 6.5 percent raise over the next two years.
 
The budget also includes $200 million to fight heroin addiction, and $200 million to create a statewide recreational trail.
 
The agreement ends frustrating talks at the Capitol: The Senate left Wednesday night, angered by the lack of action.
 
Some lawmakers took brief trips home to get clean clothes and see their families. Some were at the Capitol for nearly two weeks straight.
 
Others had to adjust their vacation plans: The Legislature was scheduled to start a two-week break for Passover and Easter.
 
"It’s been a difficult negotiation on all sides," Assemblyman Kenneth Zebrowski, D-New City, Rockland County, said. "You have a lot of competing interests here."
 
On Monday, the Legislature avoided a government shutdown by passing a budget extender introduced by Cuomo that kept government running through May 31, if a permanent budget deal was reached.
 
 

© 2017 WGRZ-TV


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