THERE’S SOMETHING to be said for an on-time state budget. Let’s applaud it with one-hand clapping. Adopting a timely budget is what we pay the governor and legislature to do. Now that they’ve done it, what has Columbia County gotten as our part of $175 billion?
• Governor Andrew Cuomo is pleased with legislation that was part of the budget, in particular the nominal “2% tax cap,” which limits the increase in the local property tax levies from year to year. That cap that is now “permanent.” Who knew it was temporary?
The cap puts a lid on school district spending and has given upstate taxpayers a break on the rate of growth in school spending. So far local districts have managed to cope. But some are stretched thin even with increases in state aid and declining enrollment. That won’t last, but neither will the cap. What legislators call a permanent law could suddenly becomes expendable if public opinion shifts. Overall, though, this is a measure that offers stability to school tax rates–the largest share of the property tax. For now anyway, it’s a workable deal.
• Villages, towns and cities were blindsided earlier this year when the governor decided to cut money from the Aid & Incentives to Municipalities (AIM) program to any community where AIM funding was less than 2% of the municipality’s total spending in 2017. The governor said the new formula would be more fair. Yeah, sure. The outcry was loud enough to make the governor back down… kind of.
His solution is to restore AIM funding with the revenue from a new source: a sales tax on online purchases. The governor, with the backing of the legislature, assures the public that there will more than enough from this new tax to pay for the AIM funds. If they’re so certain this online tax money will appear, why don’t they restore the AIM funds as they were and apply the online windfall to something new? What will happen is that the counties will make up for the lost state aid.
There is a reasonable chance the online funds will materialize. Just look at all those Amazon cardboard boxes. It may be magical thinking, but if those purchases weren’t taxed before, it’s time they were and we reaped some of the benefit.
• The most challenging and controversial issue in the budget legislation is not bail bond reform or the “congestion pricing” for cars driving into lower Manhattan. Those are creampuffs compared to the blowback, literally, from the impending ban on single use shopping bags.
Yes, it’s part of the budget. This is New York. A year from now the familiar bags will not be legal (although counties can opt into use of paper bags; garbage bags will be exempt). This isn’t a local issue; it’s an international one with the impacts already visible here.
You can see them along a road like Healy Boulevard in Greenport, all kinds of plastic bags woven into the tall weeds. It’s more than litter. It’s a threat to wildlife, open water, sewer systems and us, too. As the bags slowly shred they leave behind substances we and other species can swallow but cannot digest.
It’s a small inconvenience and it won’t be the last sacrifice necessary to prolong life as we know it. When you think of it in those terms it makes sense to use the state budget to modify our costly and wasteful behavior.
• And then there are the “small” items tucked into every huge spending plan. One that has implications here is the $100,000 secured by Assembly Member Didi Barrett (D-106th) for “an origin and destination study of truck traffic in Hudson.”
Before groaning at the thought, keep in mind that the streets of Hudson were not built for the heavy truck traffic they carry. The maintenance costs for road surfaces as well as the underground pipes is high and so are the risks to children and seniors. If this study can lead to infrastructure and traffic route improvements, it’s well worth the cost, benefitting not only the city, but the region and tourists as well.
This is nowhere near the whole budget story. The state spends too much and with this budget, legislators will be overpaid to do it. The budget is too complex, too loaded with items of questionable value. But we ought to be careful what we wish for. As flawed as it is, it’s a progressive budget for a diverse state. And it was on time.