For the third consecutive year, Gov. Andrew Cuomo vetoed legislation sponsored by state Sen. John DeFrancisco that would establish a pilot universal visitability tax credit program to help older residents and people with disabilities modify their homes.
DeFrancisco's bill received unanimous support in the state Legislature. It would have provided tax credits of up to $2,750 for homeowners to retrofit homes, such as adding a no-step entrance or installing a first floor bathroom.
The legislation was supported by disability advocates. Phil Prehn, a statewide systems advocate for ARISE in Syracuse, told The Citizen in March that the tax credit could help people with disabilities remain in their homes instead of having to move into a residential facility.
"It's a way to deal with a lot of the housing that's already in existence that would be very hard to retrofit entirely, but at least gives people the basics," he said.
Cuomo, in his veto message, said the measure has a "laudable goal." He also touted existing state programs that support home improvements for individuals with disabilities and disabled veterans.
But his concerns ultimately outweighed any benefits the bill may produce. He acknowledged that DeFrancisco, R-Syracuse, addressed one issue he raised when he vetoed the bill last year — that it would allow buyers of a retrofitted home to receive the tax credit even if they didn't make improvements.
However, the legislation was passed outside of the state budget process. Cuomo has vetoed similar bills that would create new programs but aren't included in the budget.
"Such decisions should be addressed in the context of the annual budget negotiations," Cuomo wrote. "While the Senate included the tax credit in its 2017-18 one-house bill, the executive and the Legislature were unable to reach consensus and no appropriation was made for this purpose."
Cuomo also referred to "technical flaws" that would hinder the Department of State's ability to administer the program. He urged the state Legislature to revisit the bill next year during budget talks.
DeFrancisco disagreed with Cuomo's position that the bill needs to be done within the budget process. The pilot program would award no more than $1 million in tax credits annually over a five-year period.
"That's not even a rounding error on a daily outlay of government funds in the state of New York," said DeFrancisco, who is a former chair of the Senate Finance Committee. "Every day you get a release from the governor's office — $20 million for this, $30 million for that, $40 million for that — and to me, that is not a reason to at least try this way to help people with accessibility problems try to get more places accessible."
He also disputed the governor's claim that the bill would make it difficult for the Department of State to implement regulations for the pilot program.
Earlier this year, DeFrancisco noted, Cuomo pushed for — and the state Legislature approved — the creation of the Excelsior Scholarship, a tuition-free college program. While the scholarship was adopted within the budget, the state needed to enact regulations to administer the program.
The guidelines for the tuition-free college initiative, DeFrancisco said, were more complex than the rules required for the visitability tax credit.
"But it didn't matter to him," DeFrancisco said. "He pushed through regulations and he got his priority done, which costs hundreds of millions of dollars as opposed to $1 million. He can come up with reasons for just about anything, but the fact of the matter is they're not good reasons. And I'm really not happy with this one at all."
This is the third time DeFrancisco's visitability tax credit bill has been approved by the state Legislature only to be vetoed by Cuomo. The bill passed the Assembly and Senate in 2015 and 2016.
When asked if he would attempt to pass the bill again in 2018, DeFrancisco took a swipe at Cuomo.
"I'm going to keep bringing it back until there's a new governor that will do the right thing because this governor will not," he said.
DeFrancisco is exploring a run for governor in 2018. Cuomo, a Democrat, is planning to seek a third term.
Rich Azzopardi, a spokesman for Cuomo, responded to DeFrancisco's criticism.
"Once again, DeFrancisco has his politician forked tongue working. He knows full well that a bill requiring funding has to be in the budget and we did discuss it in Albany, but he must have been at his home in Florida, which is where he usually is," he said.