State and federal budgets under the microscope

Feb 15, 2011

Albany is currently debating Governor Andrew Cuomo's budget, and the president released his budget yesterday, so it's pretty much all budget all the time here at the Innovation Trail.

Federal budget
Jerry Zremski at the Buffalo News reports that western New York could be one of the few places in the country that "ends up a winner," thanks to funding for the Peace Bridge:

[The budget] includes $25 billion to be apportioned among states for critical highway infrastructure projects -- including $2.2 billion specifically targeted toward land ports of entry facilities such as the Peace Bridge.

In addition, the proposal includes $30 billion over six years for a National Infrastructure Bank to invest in projects of regional or national economic significance.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told reporters last week that he was concerned about the condition of U.S. border crossings and had told his staff to "see what we can do."

While those infrastructure dollars could be helpful, cuts to heating assistance programs aren’t being well received here in the chilly north.  Nor are cuts to Great Lakes clean-up efforts, as Carlet Cleare at WXXI reports:

Obama's budget would spend 350-million dollars on the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative - which targets water quality problems and pollution.

That's One-hundred twenty-five million dollars less than the past fiscal year.

State budget
Yesterday in Albany was the joint Senate and Assembly hearing on economic development, for New York's budget.  The Innovation Trail's Emma Jacobs was there and brought back details on some of the big efforts economic elements in the governor's budget.

Tom Precious at the Buffalo News reports that the events of the day constituted a "war" between lobbyists for business groups, which favor the governor's two percent property tax cap, and lobbyists for unions, which don't:

Tax cap opponents are pushing various alternatives, including a “circuit breaker” approach that gives property tax breaks to lower-and middle-income homeowners only. They also want to extend a tax surcharge imposed two years ago and due to sunset at the end of the year — which applies to people starting at the $200,000 level for individual tax filers; that tax is worth about $5 billion a year to Albany.

Cuomo’s tax cap plan would not kick in until next year — leaving some backers worried that localities and schools will take advantage of the delay by pushing through big tax hikes this year.

Joseph Spector at Gannett reports that today it'll be education advocates’ turn to make their case to legislators:

Education leaders from across the state plan to testify today at a budget hearing to raise concerns about Cuomo's school-aid cuts.

Education groups wrote to Cuomo on Sunday saying that the governor is abandoning a court order that requires the state to fund education at a certain level.

"Schoolchildren — the drivers of our economic future — only go to school one time around. Schoolchildren are not a special interest," the groups wrote.

Rick Karlin at the Times Union reports that a newly discovered state law, the State Administration Procedure Act, could help schools and municipalities with mandate relief.  That's important because those stakeholders have been reluctant to sign on to the governor's tax cap idea without accompanying mandate relief:

The existence of such a law, and its almost phantom status, illustrates just how difficult it is to curtail the ever-expanding list of state mandates.

The legislation creating the decade-old law sounds as if it could have been borrowed from a Cuomo campaign speech: "State regulatory mandates have become an increasing burden on local governments which are facing acutely difficult fiscal situation," it reads.

Some committee members said there are reasons the act has barely been used, including the perception that it's a lengthy process that may not be worthwhile.

And many regulations, such as the rules that various state agencies impose, are rooted in laws passed by the Legislature. Changing those laws are likely beyond the scope of the Administrative Procedures Act, said some participants [in the mandate relief commission].

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