Summary of the 2016-2017 State Budget

After weeks of debate and negotiations, on April 1, the Senate and Assembly approved a state budget plan of $146.7 billion with historic policy agreements, such as minimum wage increases and Paid Family Leave, and record-setting investments in education, families, college affordability, transportation, water infrastructure and the environment, while remaining within a two percent budget growth rate. The multi-year investment in transportation alone – $27 billion upstate and $27 billion downstate for a total of $54 billion – will create thousands of construction-related jobs around the state, including a long awaited $50 million investment to re-do Exit 4 to the Albany Airport.

I spoke with Capital Tonight’s Liz Benjamin about the budget. Although the budget included many tradeoffs and disappointments, including a host of programs receiving little or no increased funding (such as Upstate Pre-K, child care, adult literacy, Aid to Municipalities (AIM), indigent legal services and more), it is a compromise document with a number of historic, far reaching agreements.

It is worthy to note, too, that widely opposed proposals such as changes to state employee retiree health benefits were not included in the budget.

Here are some highlights:

The agreement includes a total State Operating Fund of $96.2 billion, which holds state spending growth rate to two percent over last year. School aid jumped to $24.8 billion, which includes a record 6.5 percent growth, while Medicaid received $18.5 billion, a 3.4 percent growth and still within overall two percent cap. Higher Education has been allocated $7.2 billion overall, a two percent growth rate.

Increasing wages for New Yorkers. The minimum wage was by far the most controversial part of the budget and resulted in historic increases while reflecting the disparate costs of living and economic realities in various regions of the state. As a result, there will be different phase-in periods for upstate and downstate communities. In New York City, the minimum wage will increase to $11 at the end of 2016, followed by $2 increases each year after, reaching $15 an hour on Dec. 31, 2018, with New York City businesses with 10 or fewer employees receiving a slightly slower phase-in.

For Upstate, the wage will increase to $9.70 at the end of 2016, followed by $0.70 increases each year and reach $12.50 on Dec. 31, 2020, and then be increased to $15 according to an indexed schedule set by the Division of Budget and the Department of Labor. Again, this was the most controversial part of the budget, which caused repeated delays and debates, in an effort to achieve a three-way agreement that could be passed in the Senate (the Assembly had already passed a more ambitious proposal). For tipped workers, the budget pegs their wage at two-thirds of the minimum wage rounded either to the nearest five cents or to $7.50, whichever is higher.

Annual studies will be conducted by the Division of Budget starting in 2019 to gauge economic impact and, should the economy falter, it may determine if a temporary suspension of the wage increases is warranted. As part of the compromise, there are no additional funds included for direct care agencies, however, a financial hardship appeal can be made for additional state funds for agencies impacted by minimum wage increases. Addressing the increased costs of direct care agencies dependent on state aid will be a key priority next year.

Paid Family Leave. The budget includes a historic Paid Family Leave (PFL) provision that, when fully phased in, will be the most generous in the nation. This is a historic achievement, particularly given that the Assembly began passing versions of the PFL in 1997. PFL will allow employees 12 weeks of paid leave per year to care for a new child or family member in need (after six months of employment). The measure will be funded by employees through a small weekly employee contribution and offer up to 67 percent of an employee’s salary during their absence, not to exceed 67 percent of the statewide average weekly wage. The policy will be implemented at a gradual rate, starting in 2018 with eight weeks of paid leave offered at 50 percent of weekly income; in 2019, the benefit will increase to 10 weeks, and in 2021, employees will be able to take 12 weeks of paid leave at the full two-thirds of weekly pay. An estimated 6.4 million private sector employees will be eligible for this program.

K-12 education. The budget increases education aid by $1.47 billion – or 6.5 percent – for a total of $24.8 billion, representing the largest investment in education in New York history. This includes an increase in Foundation Aid of $627 million and provides $433 million to fully eliminate the Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA) once and for all, putting an end to the hardship it has caused our schools and to the burden it has placed on local taxpayers.

Additionally, the budget allocates $175 million to transform struggling and high-needs schools into Community Schools and $20 million for My Brother’s Keeper.

The budget also includes:

+ $47 million to unfreeze the reimbursement of expense-based aids;

+ $3 million for Early College High School grants, which help at-risk students earn both a high school diploma and an associate’s degree; and

+ $1 million for Career and Technical Education (CTE), while specifying that the funding must be used to reduce barriers faced by English language learners and students with disabilities, as well as promote gender diversity in CTE programs;

+ $1 million increase in bilingual education services funding, for a total of $15.5 million;

+ $14.3 million for Teacher Resource and Computer Training Centers;

+ $1 million in additional funding for adult literacy education, for a total of $7.2 million;

+ $2 million in assistance for economically disadvantaged middle school students preparing for the Specialized High School Admission Test;

+ $500,000 to offset AP test fees for economically disadvantaged youth.

Higher education. The budget ensures that tuition at SUNY schools will not be raised during the coming academic year. The budget also provides an increase of $18 million in operating funds for SUNY.

Community colleges. The budget includes $13.3 million in support for SUNY community colleges for an increase of $100 per full-time equivalent (FTE) student, for a total of $2,697 per FTE student.

The higher education budget also:

+ increases funding for Educational Opportunity Centers (EOC) by $5 million, for a total of $60 million;

+ increases funding for ATTAIN work training computer labs by $2 million, for a total of $6.5 million;

+ restores $1.5 million for Small Business Development Centers;

+ restores $600,000 for the Graduate Diversity Fellowship Program; and

+ restores $1.1 million in funding to SUNY child care centers.

Strengthening college opportunity programs. The budget also provides a 20 percent increase over last year, for a total of $23.8 million, for the college opportunity programs including:

+ Higher Education Opportunity Program (HEOP): $35.5 million, an increase of $5.9 million;

+ Educational Opportunity Program (EOP): $32.2 million, an increase of $5.4 million;

+ Liberty Partnerships: $18.4 million, an increase of $3.1 million;

+ Science and Technology Entry Program (STEP): $15.8 million, an increase of $2.6 million; and

+allocates $3 million for the Foster Youth College Success Initiative – an increase of $1.5 million – to help these students overcome the challenges associated with being a part of the foster care system and support them throughout their college careers.

Middle class tax relief. In order to provide additional assistance to working and middle-income families, the budget will cut personal income taxes by $270 million in 2018 compared to 2017 tax rates. These tax savings will increase to approximately $3 billion by 2025 when the middle-class tax rate reductions are fully phased in. The cuts would incrementally reduce the middle-class tax rates for single filers earning between $13,000 and $200,000, heads of households earning between $19,500 and $250,000, and married couples earning between $26,000 and $300,000. Tax rates for brackets in these ranges would decrease from the current 5.9 percent, 6.45 percent and 6.65 percent to 5.5 percent, 5.5 percent and six percent respectively, over eight years. These new tax cuts will benefit up to six million New Yorkers.

Environment, water and sewer infrastructure. Among the most significant investments, the budget will provide $500 million to critical environmental programs, including $200 million in additional funds for water and sewer infrastructure improvements.

The other $300 million is allocated for the Environmental Protection Fund (EPF), which is the largest funding commitment in the history of this very successful, multi-faceted program. More than $120 million of these EPF funds will pay for initiatives that prevent and identify water contamination, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, eradicate invasive species and address climate change.

The budget provides $1.5 million for water testing, including for lead in schools, to protect public health and $12 million for combating the spread of invasive species. An additional $250,000 was obtained for the Tivoli Lake Preserve.

The $200 million funding increase for water infrastructure improvements will expand the state’s ability to provide grants to municipalities that need to upgrade, repair or improve their water treatment facilities and might not otherwise have sufficient financial resources.

For the first time ever, the budget allocates $14 million to create a Climate Change Account within the EPF. The account will bolster the state’s efforts to address greenhouse gas reductions, flood mitigation and coastal projects. The account will also help create clean vehicle infrastructure and municipal purchase initiatives and assist municipalities with climate change planning to help ensure communities are prepared for extreme weather events.

Public infrastructure and transportation. A significant funding increase of $1.04 billion is also made to the Department of Transportation’s five-year capital plan for a total of $27 billion over 5 years, including an increase of $860 million to the state’s Highway and Bridge program. The DOT capital plan also will provide, over four years, an additional and record setting $100 million for non-MTA downstate and upstate transit systems (including CDTA), an extra $50 million for rail projects statewide and an increase of $30 million for the Air99 aviation program. The Upstate Caucus was successful in obtaining a late, but significant $5 million increase in operating funds for non-MTA transit systems.

Although the Assembly's budget resolution included my initiative for an unprecedented $20 million in funding (with over 40 Assemblymembers supporting this initiative), it was not included in the final measure. We will continue to look for alternative support.

Consolidated Local Street and Highway Improvement Program. In one of the more significant increases in the budget, the Consolidated Local Street and Highway Improvement Program or CHIPS will assist local governments pay for critical road and bridge improvements in order to ensure their safety and reliability, the budget increases funding by $400 million over four years for the CHIPs - an critical local road maintenance program for municipalities throughout Upstate.

Library investments. For the first time in 10 years, an additional $5 million has been added for the Library Construction Grant Programs, which will leverage significant library construction aid throughout the state. With more good news for local libraries, the operating aid funds will increase by $4 million over last year.

Anti-poverty Initiative targeting Upstate urban areas. The budget includes $1.5 million to support an Anti-Poverty Initiative in Albany, along with a number of other upstate urban areas and modeled a wide-ranging, neighborhood intensive initiative in Rochester.

Regional Economic Development Councils (REDC) and Downtown Revitalization Fund. The budget includes an additional $150 million to fund regional priority projects and $70 million in State tax credits for a fifth round of REDC awards later this year. Since 2011, the REDCs have awarded over $2.9 billion in State funding through a competitive process for job creation based on regional priorities.

A new competition for a Downtown Revitalization Initiative includes $100 million with one downtown area in each region of the state to be designated by the Regional Economic Development Councils to receive a $10 million investment.

This also includes:

+ $100 million in additional support for New York Works, for a total appropriation of $199 million; and

+ a $500,000 carve-out for the Healthy Food Healthy Communities Initiative.

Seniors. The budget restores $951,000 for Naturally Occurring Retirement Community (NORC) and Neighborhood Naturally Occurring Retirement Community (NNORC) programs, and provides an additional $700,000. NORCs and NNORCs allow seniors to remain in their homes and communities by providing support services that include health monitoring and case management, as well as social activities to foster engagement. In addition, the budget includes:

+ $1 million in additional funding to support Community Services for the Elderly, which helps communities better serve seniors and ensure their needs are met;

+ $86,000 to restore support for the New York Foundation for Senior Citizens Home Sharing and Respite Care program, which helps seniors live fuller, safer lives in their own homes; and;

+ $31,500 to restore support for the New York Statewide Senior Action Council, Inc. for the patients’ rights hotline and advocacy project to help low-income and minority seniors.

Public health. The budget restores critical funding for public health programs and provides funding for health care infrastructure programs and $2.9 million for restorations, including support for HIV/AIDS programs, family planning services and the community health advocates program. In addition, the budget provides important Medicaid funding, including funding to offset the costs of medications and long-term care, as well as coverage for inmates within the final 30 days of their incarceration in a prison or local jail.

To help expand access to necessary medicines, the budget includes $20.7 million to preserve prescriber prevails, which ensures patients and their doctors have the final say in choosing medications.

The bill also restores $10 million to preserve spousal refusal, ensuring couples do not lose their life savings in the event a spouse becomes ill. For seniors living on a fixed income, this program is vital because the costs of long-term care can be financially ruinous.

Additionally, the budget provides vital funding to support long-term care, including:

+ $11.2 million to prevent the carve-out of long-term care transportation management;

+ $5.7 million to protect community spouse resources;

+ $5.6 million to reduce the Medicare Part C co-insurance cut; and

+ $1.9 million to prevent limiting Managed Long Term Care eligibility to those eligible for nursing homes.

Heroin and opioid abuse. To help combat the heroin and opioid epidemic in our state and help protect public health with appropriations totaling $28 million – a significant increase over last year’s budget.

Specifically, the approved budget includes $25 million for the Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services to implement a Heroin and Opiate Treatment Prevention Package. Additionally, $2 million has been included to support Substance Abuse Prevention and Intervention Specialists (SAPIS) in order to continue providing programming in New York City schools.

Further, to maintain safer communities, $1 million has been allocated in the Department of Environmental Conservation budget to conduct local and federally approved drug collection programs, including the purchase and distribution of tamper-proof drug collection boxes. These measures will help protect the environment from harmful substances and reduce addiction through the safe and responsible disposal of opioid and pharmaceutical drugs.

The listing above only highlights the budget. If we did not cover one you are interested in, please do not hesitate to contact us and we can look up funding for any particular program of interest.

Veterans. Veterans and their families have made invaluable sacrifices for our country, and so we must support veterans and ensure they have access to vital resources. This year’s state budget provides $1.62 million in restorations and additional funding for veterans over the executive proposal, including:

+ $500,000 for the Veterans Defense Program, which provides in-depth training, support and legal assistance to veterans and service members in the New York State criminal and family court systems;

+ $200,000 for Helmets-to-Hardhats, which connects veterans and transitioning members of the military with training and career opportunities to help ease the transition into civilian life;

+ a $100,000 restoration to SAGEVets, which helps Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) veterans over the age of 50 access veteran benefits;

+ $100,000 for the Veterans Justice Project, which provides legal services to veterans and their families.

Job Opportunities: New York State has setup a new job portal entitled Jobs Express, where thousands of private and public sector jobs are listed. Visit for more information on how to apply for these opportunities.

As always, for the latest news or for upcoming events, please visit my office online, on Facebook, on Twitter, or my Times Union blog. If you would like to reach my office, please feel free to send us a note.

Sincerely ---