Cuomo, Assembly Democrats feud over tax cap, prison closures

| The Daily Star

ALBANY — Gov. Andrew Cuomo has a fight on his hands with Democratic lawmakers who are resisting his push to get the authority to close three prisons within several months and make the state’s property tax cap permanent.

Cuomo wants the right to take just 60 days to begin the process of closing three of New York’s 54 correctional facilities. Critics argue the process he has laid out lacks transparency, and would allow the Department of Correctional Services to work out the details behind closed doors, with no input from lawmakers.

The Democratic-led Assembly, in its first formal response to Cuomo’s budget measure, refused to go along with the closure process outlined by the governor, said Assemblyman Billy Jones, D-Chateaugay.

“We are rejecting the governor’s language,” said Jones, a former corrections officer who remains close to the statewide union representing more than 30,000 staffers and retirees.

Cuomo is also meeting resistance on his drive to keep the property tax cap — now set at 2 percent or the rate of inflation, or whichever is lower — and make it permanent, goals he called “essential.”

Cuomo, in a public radio interview, said objections expressed by the Assembly leadership to the tax cap parrot the arguments made by teachers’ unions.

Cuomo’s dig prompted Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, D-Bronx, to shoot back: “I think it’s wholly unacceptable to question the Assembly’s motives.” He labeled Cuomo’s comment “really inflammatory.”

Cuomo argued that the state’s revenue expectations have dropped $2.5 billion this year, with another $1.5 billion decline projected next year, in part because of the Republicans’ 2017 federal tax overhaul, which caps the deductibility of state and local taxes on federal returns.

While Cuomo argued the state’s fiscal situation dictates the need for spending restraint, the alternative blueprint advanced by Assembly Democrats would boost public school aid by $2 billion.

E.J. McMahon, chief researcher for the Empire Center for Public Policy, said the Assembly proposal amounts to “tax and spend fantasy.”

The Assembly also proposed an increase in the surtax on the state’s highest earners. Cuomo has proposed an extension on the temporary personal income tax top rate, which now stands at 8.82 percent on high income. earners, for five years.

An Assembly ally, Ronald Deutsch, director of the labor-backed Fiscal Policy Institute, argued Cuomo is being “disingenuous” to go along with extending the existing “millionaire’s tax” while objecting to a half-percent surcharge being added to the tax obligations of the wealthiest residents. Deutsch also said the number of millionaire filers in New York has increased by 72 percent since the advent of the higher rate in 2007.

The influence of unions on New York public policy also emerged in the budget response of both legislative chambers, which presented an expansion of the prevailing wage requirements for construction projects.

That proposal drew sharp criticism from the National Federation of Independent Business. The director of the group’s state chapter, Greg Biryla, aid that imposing the prevailing wage mandate on private development projects “will prohibitively increase the cost of construction across New York.” He said the existing mandate already discourages small contractor from bidding on work.

Meanwhile, Cuomo’s proposal to legalize the adult use of marijuana is getting a chilly reception from the lobby for county governments. Stephen Acquario, director of the New York State Association of Counties, said the policy change would leave counties facing new costs.

“The bottom line is that it’s better to have no policy than shortsighted policy,” Acquario said.

Lawmakers and Cuomo are trying to hammer out a deal on the budget by April 1, the beginning of the state’s next fiscal year.

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