Officials: Tax cuts, school aid keys to state plan

Tax cuts, school aid and many other aspects of the New York state budget have local elected officials feeling optimistic.

After weeks of debate, lawmakers were pleased to finalize the budget before Tuesday’s deadline.

Assemblyman Andy Goodell, R-Jamestown, pointed out several underlying features of the capital plan.

“The most important component, from my perspective, is that we limited the overall increase in state spending and kept it below 2 percent within the general fund,” he said, adding other important issues involved cutting taxes to help the state’s business environment and increasing education aid.

Education funding was the largest growth component of the budget, with a $1.1 billion increase, bringing total support for public schools to $22.3 billion, which is 5.4 percent higher than last year.

“I think that’s excellent,” said Chau-tauqua County Executive Vince Horrigan. “The extra money for schools goes right to the taxpayers, and I applaud that.”

The enacted budget contains an increase of school aid of $500 million more than originally proposed in the governor’s budget.

The budget, according to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, will establish a 20 percent real property tax credit for manufacturers who own or lease property and lowers the tax rate on income for all manufacturers from the current 5.9 percent to zero in 2014 and thereafter.

“Anything we can do in tax relief is always very helpful because we know taxes are one of the major drivers that either force people or businesses out,” Horrigan said. “It’s important that we address that, and I’m pleased to see the corporate tax credits.”

A reduction in the 18-a energy tax surcharge is predicted to lower electricity and gas rates, while saving businesses and residential rate payers an estimated $600 million over the next three years.

Goodell said there were several issues of local concern within the budget, especially for farmers.

“This year’s budget is very supportive of agriculture, which is important for Chautauqua County because we have more farms than any other county in the state,” he said.

Funding was restored for maple producers, along with FarmNet, a program which aids farmers with financial planning and other services.

Additionally, the budget included increases for estate tax exemption over the next 5 years, which will help maintain and preserve family farms, Goodell said.

Funding for community services to the elderly was increased by $5 million statewide.

“It involves a lot of seniors in our county,” Goodell said.

Said services include transportation assistance and home delivery meals.

Increased child care funding through Social Services will provide $38 million statewide to help cover daycare costs for those leaving welfare and entering the workforce.

In other matters, changes were made in conservation laws to allow crossbow hunting of small game and large game during the last two weeks of the normal hunting season as long as the hunter is over the age of 14.

“The budget also reduces a lot of hunting and fishing fees,” Goodell said, adding that lifetime licenses for hunting and fishing will soon be available.

Horrigan was particularly optimistic about two funding initiatives within the budget: an extra $40 million designated for potholes and road repair; and $450,000 toward opioid prevention, treatment and addiction.

“At least ($450,000) acknowledges that we have this tremendous problem in our counties, and I’ve addressed that here in Chautauqua County as well,” he said.

Transportation funds were included by lawmakers in response to the unusually harsh winter, which severely damaged roads.

“We’ve had a terrible winter, and that extra money is very appreciated,” Horrigan said. “My State of the County address called for upgrades to Route 60, and I hope that we can continue with additional funding to get projects like that done.

Overall, Goodell said statewide revenues have increased significantly as New York’s economy continues to recover.

“In addition, the state has cut its spending increases by two-thirds over the last four years, which is difficult but essential in order for the state to bring both spending and the budget under control,” he concluded.