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5 things to watch for in Cuomo's state budget address

The governor will deliver his State of the State message and release his proposed state budget on Tuesday afternoon.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, seen here on Aug. 8,

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, seen here on Aug. 8, 2018, will deliver his annual budget address on Tuesday. Photo Credit: J. Conrad Williams Jr.

ALBANY – Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo delivers his State of the State message and releases his proposed state budget Tuesday afternoon and he will try to use them to set the agenda on policy as well as fiscal issues in the 2019 legislative session.

Cuomo has promised “the most aggressive agenda that I have put forward,” while the Democratic legislative majorities say that the growing trend of the governor stuffing policy into a fiscal plan ends this year. State budget law gives governors tremendous leverage over the Legislature and ultimately the power to impose their own policies.

Watch for this leverage to be used over policy issues such as the Child Victims Act proposal. The act would allow victims of child sexual abuse more power to criminally and civilly prosecute teachers, clergy and others for past cases criminally. But the governor and legislators have been divided over some details, including how long a “look-back” period for past cases would be.

The issues to watch for:

Fixing the MTA

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority needs billions to fix serious subway damage lingering since the flooding of tunnels during superstorm Sandy in 2012 and long overdue repairs and enhancements to the Long Island Rail Road. Cuomo wants to pay for some of it by congestion pricing, which would charge automobiles a toll for operating in the busiest parts of Manhattan. Legislators led by those representing the outer boroughs have blocked previous efforts as too expensive for working families. Cuomo also wants to restructure the MTA, with him in charge. He said he won’t accept responsibility for the MTA’s problem until he can fix them as he sees fit. Currently he has six of 14 appointments to the MTA board, which is minority but is also more than any other government leader has. Cuomo also appoints the MTA executive director. But he said greater control would allow him to break through the gridlock of governance that he said was established a decade ago to make sure blame is diffused.

Legalizing marijuana

Recreational use of marijuana was a hot issue for Democrats in the November elections and helped them seize the state Senate majority. Cuomo says marijuana sales could raise $300 million in tax revenue. But huge questions remain, including who could sell it and how much tax could be charged without exceeding the illegal market price. The thorniest issue, however, may be the proposed expunging of past marijuana convictions.

Education

This will be another record year for school aid, but there is an internal fight that should come into focus in Cuomo’s budget. Senate Democrats owe much of their newfound majority to teachers unions, which believe schools are still owed billions from a 1995 Court of Appeals decision that found the state had under-funded schools for decades. The money was never paid in full, but while Cuomo will propose more school aid, it will be less than the unions want. Instead, Cuomo wants school districts to spend their state aid more wisely.

Raising revenue

The budget will propose how to pay for expensive projects such as a water quality infrastructure project aimed at Long Island and still stay within a 2 percent cap on budget growth. Among the more likely new sources of revenue is sports gambling at the state’s casinos, which the U.S. Supreme Court allowed last year. But the biggest impact could be an anticipated new millionaire’s tax. Also deep in the voluminous proposed budget documents likely will be fee increases that could be attached to motor vehicles, smoking and other purposes to help pay for a continued middle class tax cut.

Healthcare

Expect more criticism of Republican President Donald Trump. Cuomo wants the state to fund health care exchanges, so that New Yorkers will continue to be able to choose their own health care plans that best suit their needs. The exchanges were created under Obamacare but are threatened now because Trump has promised to end them. Cuomo also has wants the state to ensure that pre-existing conditions are covered. Now Cuomo has to say how New Yorkers would pay for it.

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