Jon Campbell

ALBANY – While you were sleeping, New York lawmakers finished passing a $177 billion state budget that requires paid sick leave, scales back cash bail reforms and legalizes e-bikes and e-scooters.

The state Assembly wrapped up voting on the spending plan at 3:38 a.m. Friday.

The spending plan also grants Gov. Andrew Cuomo extraordinary power to withhold or reduce payments to schools and local governments as the year progresses — a serious possibility as COVID-19 threatens the state’s tax collections.

Here are some highlights:

A balanced budget? In this economy? Cuomo’s budget office anticipates tax revenue projections dropping by at least $10 billion in the coming year. A

nd the state was already facing a $6 billion budget hole to begin with.

So how exactly did Cuomo and lawmakers balance the budget?

The answer: By borrowing, as well as a bump in federal funds and giving Cuomo the power to cut spending if and when things get out of whack.

The budget authorizes borrowing an extra $11 billion to help cover the state’s costs and lost revenues, including $8 billion to account for the state and federal government pushing its income-tax filing deadline from April to July, according to the Empire Center, an Albany-based think tank.

It also relies in part on several billion dollars from the federal coronavirus stimulus bills, including $1.2 billion to help schools and higher-education institutions.

But the biggest budget balancing trick is this: At three points during the year, Cuomo’s budget director Rob Mujica can unilaterally cut state spending — including payments to schools and local governments — if tax revenues fall short of projections, throwing the budget out of whack.

Paid sick leave approved Most workers in New York will soon be entitled to paid sick leave as part of the budget deal.

Cuomo and lawmakers approved a measure requiring large employers (100 or more employees) to provide up to 56 hours of paid leave a year for workers who become ill or injured or have to care for a sick family member.

Medium-sized employers (4 to 99 employees) will have to provide up to 40 hours.

And those with fewer than four employees will have to provide up to 40 hours of unpaid sick leave.

Workers will accrue one hour of sick leave per 30 hours worked.

The new requirements take effect in 2021.

Cash bail reform scaled back

Last year, Cuomo and lawmakers approved a measure effectively ending cash bail for most misdemeanors and class E felonies, requiring judges to release people charged with those crimes without requiring them to put up cash or bond.

Now, the state is scaling back the reforms, re-adding more than a dozen crimes — including burglary of a residence and failing to register as a level 3 sex offender — to the list eligible for a cash bail order.

Public campaign financing moves ahead

A state commission last year crafted and approved a new system for public campaign financing in New York, in which donations of $250 or less to a state-level political candidate are matched with public funds at a 6-to-1 rate.

But a court invalidated the plan earlier this year, arguing the Legislature didn’t have the authority to allow the commission to put such a system in place.

That changed in this year’s budget, when lawmakers and Cuomo put the commission’s plan into law.

Now, the plan will take effect after the 2022 elections. Candidates will have to meet certain fundraising thresholds to qualify.

The maximum contribution limits for candidates will also drop to $18,000 for statewide candidates, down from about $70,000 now.

The measure could also imperil several minor political parties, including the Working Families Party.

Under the new law, third parties will have to tally at least 130,000 votes — or 2 percent of the total, whichever is larger — on their line in presidential and gubernatorial elections to maintain their automatic spot on the ballot.

Previously, the threshold was 50,000 votes in gubernatorial elections.

Styrofoam ban in New York

The days of Styrofoam food containers and packing peanuts are about to be over in New York.

Starting in 2022, any food containers and packing material made of polystyrene foam — known by most as Styrofoam, which is a brand name — will be banned.

Environmentalists have praised the measure, which they say will cut down on products made of the non-biodegradable material.

But some Republicans and the polystyrene industry say it will put people out of work in New York.

© 2020 The Times Herald-Record

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Empire Center for Public Policy
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The Empire Center is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit think tank located in Albany, New York. Our mission is to make New York a better place to live and work by promoting public policy reforms grounded in free-market principles, personal responsibility, and the ideals of effective and accountable government.