Albany Round-up

March 26, 2012

NY's budget: A short course in politics, numbers

ALBANY — New York's state Legislature and Gov. Andrew Cuomo are scheduled to adopt a $132 billion budget within days for the 2012-13 fiscal year.

And, as exciting as the voluminous spending document is to insiders, with its arcane "financial plan" and critical "article 7 bills," the tome that might seem dull to others affects every New Yorker every day.

Q: Why should I care?

A: The state budget determines which of your highways are fixed, which of your nearby bridges are replaced, how the poorest neighbors are provided for, how well-staffed your hospital will be, and how well your parks are maintained, among a hundred other impacts. The state budget's aid to schools and local governments affect property tax bills and rent.

Q: The politicians in Albany say there is no tax increase but there is a tax cut. Is that right?

A: Yes, many of them say that, but, no, it's not all true. Cuomo and the Legislature agreed to a millionaire's tax in December, after the Democratic governor and the Senate's Republican majority campaigned against it in 2010 and promised to block it as a "job killer" through the first 11 months of 2011. But the tax on millionaires was increased to raise $2 billion and avoid further cuts to schools and programs. There is, however, a tax cut: Part of the tax increase will provide a $200 to $400 income tax reduction for middle-class families.

Q: What major issues are still being negotiated?

A: Really just one: Cuomo and the Democrat-led Assembly want to establish health care exchanges called for by the federal government to provide a kind of one-stop shopping for individuals and businesses to provide affordable health insurance to all. The Obama administration would provide millions of dollars for the state to tailor its own plan, but the feds will impose a plan if the state balks. The Senate's Republican majority said more study is needed into how to do this well and efficiently and there is plenty of time after the budget to figure it out. Democrats want the pressure of the horse trading in the budget to force Republicans to agree, and say they are just avoiding the political problem of agreeing to Obama's signature legislation.

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Albany Round-up