With Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s signature $15 minimum wage proposal making headlines across New York and beyond on Thursday and Friday, the details of other aspects of the newly enacted $147 billion budget were buried.
For the Capital Region, the minimum wage — set to hit $12.50 upstate in five years and to be indexed after that until it reaches $15 — will affect nearly 145,000 residents, according to state estimates.
Several other budget proposals will have wide-reaching impacts on the region as well.
Albany and Troy will reap $1.5 million each as part of a state anti-poverty initiative offered for 10 upstate cities.
Another $50 million is earmarked for the construction of a direct connection between the Northway and Albany International Airport, a long-discussed and long-stalled project.
The state Department of Transportation in recent years had moved away from the idea of building Exit 3 on the Northway in favor of studying access improvements between the Exits 2 and 4. Those improvements included bridge work completed last year on the overpass carrying the Northway over Albany Shaker Road. However, a Cuomo spokesman said the project would include a new exit and connector road.
The airport itself will be eligible for funding through a $200 million upstate airport competition. Albany will vie with a number of municipal airports north of New York City for five grants of $40 million each to be used for a wide range of projects, including safety and environmental impact improvements.
Other larger pots of funding for the region include $38 million in Consolidated Highway Infrastructure Program funding to be used for local-level road and bridge projects and $72 million in school aid increases, part of a statewide total increase of $1.5 billion. The region’s schools are due a total of $1.2 billion, with aid increasing for nearly all of the immediate Capital Region’s districts. Among those receiving the largest boosts in funding are the Lansingburgh (16.59 percent), Waterford-Halfmoon (14.09 percent) and Schenectady (11.78 percent) school districts.
And then there are lawmakers’ pet projects. For example, $50,000 will be spent on the Woodlawn Preserve in Schenectady, which is part of a larger $2.7 million in funding for the Albany Pine Bush. Assemblyman Phil Steck, D-Colonie, took credit for securing the funding on Friday, just as other members of the Legislature did for funding in their individual districts.
“The Woodlawn Preserve is a tremendous natural resource, and it’s been a mission of mine to preserve its beauty and habitat for the next generation,” Steck said. “I am honored to have the opportunity to lay the foundation for the protection of this land and look forward to our children having a chance to see the untouched beauty of nature in their own backyards.”
The state budget will fund other projects that members of the Legislature undoubtedly will tout at some point. The Empire Center, a fiscally conservative Albany think tank, highlighted on Friday a $385 million increase to the State and Municipal Facilities Program, a pot of general capital project funding that is derided by critics as being opaque and overly broad in terms of the types of projects can be funded.
“When you say what’s the local impact? My answer is I have no idea,” the Empire Center’s E.J. McMahon said. “It’s not programmed. It’s capital pork.”
In defense of the program, the governor and legislative leaders point to the need for state approval of projects before the money is doled out.
© 2016 Times Union