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What we’d like to see in the next New York State budget

THE EDITORIAL BOARD

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It’s time for Albany to cook up a state budget, and everything is in the pot.

What will get served is unknown and probably won’t appeal to all tastes. The cooking process, as usual, will be unsavory, with much of it occurring out of sight.

Looming over budget negotiations is the profound uncertainty of how much of a hit New York will take from President Donald Trump’s first budget, which will take effect Oct. 1. It could be devastating. So in his $152 billion spending plan, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo proposed to give himself power to enact midyear cuts without legislative approval. That’s a mistake. If the portions have to get smaller, the governor and legislature must share responsibility for dealing with the pain.

The budget is due April 1, if Cuomo, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan want to keep intact a six-year streak of on-time budgets.

Here’s what we’d like to see:

Voting and ethics reform

(Credit: Getty Images / Drew Angerer)

Getting these done later in the session as individual law just won’t happen. Cuomo should push now while he has the leverage of the budget. Starting the voting a few days before Election Day, a concept in place in 34 states, increases turnout and reduces lines. Automatic registration during interactions with state agencies, and verifying voter eligibility, would increase the rolls. New York was 41st in voter turnout in 2016, and 40 percent of adult citizens here are unregistered. We can do better.
Cuomo again has proposed a strong package of ethics reform. Measures including limits on outside income, term limits, a full-time legislature, closing the LLC loophole and public campaign financing should be adopted.

Environment

(Credit: File)

Funding clean water infrastructure is urgent. Cuomo’s $2 billion proposal is a good starting point; $250 million should be designated for buying land, important on Long Island where parts of the core pine barrens still need to be preserved to protect the aquifer. Another $1 billion should be added for septic replacement, a critical need for the region. Cuomo’s plan to reduce food waste from supermarkets, restaurants and the like also merits passage.

Ride-sharing

(Credit: Getty Images / Spencer Platt)

New York is alone among the 48 continental states in not allowing ride-hailing statewide; it’s legal only in New York City. Expand it now, with uniform licensing standards and a reasonable insurance coverage requirement.

Criminal Justice

(Credit: Newsday / Daniel Goodrich)

It’s long past time to raise the age of criminal responsibility to 18. New York and North Carolina are the only states that try 16-year-olds as adults. Teens handled by family court are more likely to not reoffend and transition successfully to adulthood.
We also like Cuomo’s proposals to reduce wrongful convictions, especially requiring police to video-record interrogations from start to finish.

Taxes

(Credit: iStock)

The “millionaire’s tax” should not be increased, but it must be extended. Not doing so would leave a $4 billion budget hole, and there’s no evidence of an exodus of the rich since its adoption in 2009. Doubling the middle-class child care tax credit and enacting a middle-class tax cut to save the average household $250 are good ideas.
Cuomo’s plan to force local governments to devise consolidation and shared services plans to reduce taxes is worth trying, even if the cuts are small. Changing the mindset is important.

Education

(Credit: Steve Pfost)

Some form of Cuomo’s proposal for free public college tuition should be passed — as long as it has a smart standard for eligibility, a defined funding source, and resources for schools to help students meet the mandate to graduate on time. It should not cut off Tuition Assistance Program aid to students who attend private colleges.
In the battle over K-12 aid, the foundation formula should not abandoned, nor should it be distorted to funnel huge chunks of aid away from middle-class districts like the ones so prevalent on Long Island. Find a middle ground.

Long Island development

(Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara)

Cuomo has pitched $120 million in Long Island Rail Road improvements. Seize it. The money would improve 16 stations, add a new one at Brookhaven National Laboratory and help provide direct access to Long Island MacArthur Airport from the Ronkonkoma station. Include Cuomo’s $40 million for sewers to help revitalize the Kings Park and Smithtown downtowns.

Drugs

(Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.)

A solid $200 million package building on steps taken last year to attack the heroin and opioid epidemic proposes the state’s first two high schools for those in recovery, one upstate and one downstate. It’s a terrific idea, but our delegation should insist one be on Long Island, even if it means adding a third.

Development

(Credit: Faye Murman)

It’s time for statewide use of design-build, which lets governments award contracts to one entity responsible for designing and building projects, reducing costs and speeding completion. Cuomo has used it; some states employ it at all levels of government. Expand it.Cuomo’s Regional Economic Development Council competition should be continued but reformed. It should prioritize larger projects with regional impact. Job promises must be publicly evaluated against results. And council members who help dole out funds should file financial disclosures to reveal potential conflicts.A new 421a tax credit must be rejected. The old plan gave developers too many breaks for too few affordable housing units; the new proposal is just as bad.

Direct care

(Credit: iSTOCK)

Nonprofit organizations that employ direct-care workers for people with developmental disabilities are losing them because the agencies can’t pay more than the rising minimum wage. It’s critical work, and those doing it deserve a living wage. Don’t let this drop out of the budget because of minor squabbles.