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NY lawmakers, governor reach deal on late state budget
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NY lawmakers, governor reach deal on late state budget

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New York Governor Andrew Cuomo speaks before getting vaccinated at a church in the Harlem section of New York, Wednesday, March 17, 2021. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, Pool)

ALBANY — New York will boost spending by billions over the next year in a bid to revitalize the state's hard-hit economy under a budget deal announced Tuesday by lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Cuomo has long prided himself on getting the budget passed on time and trying to keep spending increases minimal. Lawmakers passed a budget on time last spring amid the pandemic, when the Assembly and Senate didn't offer their own spending proposals.

Lawmakers hoped to pass the budget by midnight Tuesday. New York's Senate and Assembly passed legislation Tuesday evening to extend the budget by two days in case either chamber missed that deadline.

This year's budget delay means thousands of state workers may now have to wait at least a day longer to receive paychecks: at least 39,000 state employees were expecting a paycheck Thursday. New York has a deadline of passing a budget by April 1.

State comptroller spokesperson Jennifer Freeman said some employees — including 5,000 who receive paper checks — may still face a delay in receiving direct deposits or paper checks.

The Legislature and governor waited until late Tuesday to release specifics to the public about some of the most contentious parts of the budget: from a tax hike on millionaires, to an agreement to legalize mobile sports betting, to a $2.1 billion fund for undocumented immigrants and other workers who have been excluded from COVID-19 assistance.

Lawmakers typically have to wait three days to pass legislation once it's introduced. But the governor can give lawmakers special permission to vote on the bill earlier.

Democrats hope the tax increase on millionaires will bring in at least $2.8 billion this upcoming year, while a corporate tax rate hike could bring in another $750 million.

"Working and middle-class taxpayers will receive the relief they desperately need, while the wealthiest New Yorkers will help their neighbors," Stewart-Cousins said in a statement. "This budget makes New York better for all."

Mobile sports betting could bring in another $99 million that New York would direct to education funding, according to lawmakers who hope that could jump to $500 million by 2026. New York's gaming commission would seek bids for companies who would run the state's mobile sports betting program, and New York would boost spending on addiction treatment for problem gaming and sports programs for underserved young people.

Meanwhile, New Yorkers who weren't eligible for federal COVID-19 stimulus payments or unemployment aid will be able to apply for one-time unemployment benefits under the new $2.1 billion fund. Workers could prove eligibility with a foreign birth certificate or a U.S. high school diploma, for example.

Sen. Jessica Ramos, a Democrat representing Queens, said New York is the first state to pass such a fund, which could reach an estimated half a million, largely undocumented workers.

"This nation's economy has long been built on the backs of our undocumented workforce, and it is their essential labor that has kept our nation running throughout this pandemic," she said. "The fund created by this budget will go a long way in recognizing the vital contributions our undocumented New Yorkers have had on our state's response and recovery, and I am hopeful other states will begin to do the same."

And New Yorkers regardless of immigration status could apply for help from a new $2.4 billion rental relief program that will offer 12 months of overdue rent and utilities, three prospective months of rent and a year of eviction protection. That's on top of $600 million in homeowner assistance.

This year's $212 billion budget is a 9.9% increase over last year's $194.6 billion budget.

That increase is due in part to extra federal COVID-19 relief that New York won't get again next year: including an expected $12 billion for state government alone.

Freeman Klopott, Cuomo budget office spokesperson, said state spending alone will increase 3.8% under the budget if that extra federal funding is excluded.

New York tax revenues are rebounding faster than expected, Congress has sent billions to New York over the past year and Cuomo has reduced state spending by at least $1.7 billion since last spring. That's all helped New York balance its budget.

But Cuomo and Democrats want to give a jumpstart to an economy still hit by job losses from the COVID-19 pandemic. Employment in New York is still more than 1 million jobs below pre-pandemic levels, with fewer than half of lost jobs recovered so far, according to state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli.

"(W)e not only balanced our budget, we are also making historic investments to reimagine, rebuild and renew New York in the aftermath of the worst health and economic crisis in a century," Cuomo said.

The budget avoids Cuomo's proposals to cut funding to local governments, delay $400 million in middle-class personal income tax cuts and reduce Medicaid reimbursement for hospitals, healthcare providers and public health programs. New York will eliminate premiums and out-of-pocket expenses for low-income New Yorkers on the state's subsidized health care plan.

About 1.3 million New Yorkers earning under $250,000 are set to receive tax credits between $250 and $350 under a $440 million plan to deliver property tax relief. The tax credits would depend on how much New Yorkers spend of their income on property taxes.

Cuomo and lawmakers said the budget would include a "record" $29.5 billion in school aid, a $3 billion increase from last year.

That includes $1.4 billion in additional aid for school funding, and a $105 million expansion of full-day pre-kindergarten for 210 districts who don't currently receive such state funding. New York is set to prevent tuition increases at state colleges and universities for the next three years and boost funding for tuition assistance and operating aid.

The budget also provides funding for "green economy investments," child care and small business recovery. That includes $2.4 billion in tax credits for child care providers, a $3 billion bond to fund environmental and climate change projects, $35 million in tax credits for restaurants, and $40 million in grants for arts and cultural organizations. It also includes a requirement for every internet provider in New York to offer low-income families a $15-per-month plan.

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