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State budget deal announced: Spending plan includes $1.1 billion boost to state education aid and tuition-free public colleges

Gov. Andrew Cuomo discusses budget provisions at a press conference last night. Seated next to Cuomo is counsel to the governor Alphonso David. Courtesy photo: Andrew Cuomo/Flikr

Correction appended
Governor Andrew Cuomo and state legislative leaders last night announced an agreement on a $153.1 billion state budget for fiscal year 2018.

The budget increases public school K-12 education aid statewide by $1.1 billion to $25.8 billion, according to a joint press release issued by Cuomo and leaders of both legislative chambers. The agreement allows school officials to finalize their 2017-2018 budget proposals with actual state aid numbers, though amounts for individual districts were not immediately available.

The budget announced last night also provides for tuition-free public colleges under the Excelsior scholarship program for families earning up to $125,000 per year, Cuomo said. Eighty percent of the households in the state will qualify for the Excelsior scholarship.

The governor likened the need for a college education today to the need for a high school education 50 years ago.

“Why do we have free public high school?” Cuomo asked. “Because we made the determination as society that you needed high school. You needed it to succeed and you needed it as a society. Well, today, college is what high school was,” he said.

“You want to talk about a difference government can make? This is the difference that government can make. There is no child who will go to sleep tonight and say I have great dreams, but I don’t believe I’ll be able to get a college education because Mommy and Daddy can’t afford it. Every child will have the opportunity that education provides,” Cuomo said.

The budget deal extends the so-called millionaires tax, which imposes a rate of 8.82 percent on individuals earning $1.1 million — but also provides higher tax rates for those with incomes starting at $300,000. The tax affects 45,000 taxpayers, officials said and will generate $3.4 billion in revenue next year.

The budget also begins implementation of a tax cut under the Middle Class Recovery Act, which officials said will save 6 million New Yorkers $700 annually when fully effective. Taxpayers on average will save, on average, $250 next year, according to the release.

The agreement “continues the state’s record of fiscal responsibility,” according to the governor, “holding spending growth to 2 percent while reducing taxes, making smart investments in education, enacting comprehensive criminal justice reforms, creating good-paying jobs, and rebuilding New York’s infrastructure.”

Legislative leaders agreed to the governor’s proposal to raise the age of criminal responsibility.

“After 12 years of failed attempts, New York will no longer be one of two states in the nation who treats 16 and 17-year-olds as adults,” Cuomo said at a press conference last night.

“For too long, draconian punishments for youthful mistakes have ruined the lives of countless young New Yorkers,” Cuomo said. “By coming together, we reversed this injustice and raised the age of criminal responsibility once and for all so that 16- and 17-year-olds are no longer automatically processed as adults.”

The budget deal includes empowering county executives to call together all the local governments in their counties to come up with a plan of shared services and ways to control costs and then pass those savings on to the homeowner, Cuomo said.

The local governments must participate, the governor said. “They must explain to their citizens what did they accept or reject [of] the recommendations of the commission and why,”Cuomo said. “And the plan here is to give people power on the local level.”

Other budget highlights:

  • $2.5 billion Clean Water Infrastructure Act
  • $200 million to combat heroin
  • $70 million for the I Love New York to promote tourism.
  • $10 million legal services program for new immigrants.
  • a provision for union members to deduct costs of their dues from their state taxes.

State operating funds spending— excluding federal funds and capital expenditures — is $98.1 billion in FY 2018, an increase of 2 percent.

Correction: The income limit for the Excelsior scholarship was misstated in the original version of this story, which has been amended to reflect the correct amount. It is $125,000 per year, not $145,000 as originally reported.

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Denise Civiletti
Denise is a veteran local reporter and editor, an attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including a “writer of the year” award from the N.Y. Press Association in 2015. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website. Email Denise.