State budget passes with plastic bag ban, permanent property tax cap and five-year phase in

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State Sen. Anna Kaplan (D-Great Neck) spoke of the budget initiatives that benefit Long Islanders. (Photo by Jessica Parks)

State legislators passed a $175.5 billion state budget early Monday morning that brings tax dollars back to Nassau County and even made the April 1 deadline.

For Nassau County residents the 2019-20 budget includes a phase-in of property tax increases resulting from reassessment, a permanent property tax cap set at 2 percent, a plastic bag ban, money to protect Long Island’s drinking water and Long Island Rail Road funding from the implementation of congestion pricing.

Jay Jacobs, the state and Nassau County Democratic chairman, said the six Democratic state senators from Long Island did an outstanding job in standing up for Nassau and Suffolk, and brought home tremendous benefits in dollars and programs.

The reassessment phase-in will require adoption by the Nassau County Legislature and authorization from Nassau County Executive Laura Curran, who has been a strong advocate for the plan, which would spread reassessment increases over a five-year period. Taxpayers whose assessments increased would see their property taxes go up by 20 percent of their expected total increase each year.

A tax credit proposed by the state Senate that would offset reassessment increases for seven years was not included in the approved budget.

The 2019-20 budget passed by the Democratic-controlled Legislature also permanently limits the annual growth of property taxes to 2 percent, a measure that has been renewed in the budget each year since 2012.

A statement from Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office estimates that the state’s taxpayers have saved $25 million since the implementation of the tax cap.

By March 2020, plastic bags will either be banned or cost 5 cents in Nassau County, similar to neighboring Suffolk County and the City of Long Beach, which enacted measures prior to the statewide ban.

Cities and counties can choose whether they will ban single-use plastic bags outright or charge a fee.

At a news conference Tuesday, state Sen. Anna Kaplan (D-Great Neck) said the budget allocates $500 million more for clean water infrastructure and another $300 million to fully fund the environmental protection fund.

The state’s largest generators of food waste will be required to begin recycling their food scraps and to donate food to those in need as part of the budget.

The approved budget also includes congestion pricing, which will charge a fee for drivers to enter the Central Business District in Manhattan, defined as south of 60th Street. Tolls will be determined by the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority, which will also be tasked with establishing, operating and maintaining the program, with input from a six-member Traffic Mobility Review Board.

The toll program is to be implemented no sooner than Dec. 31, 2020, and is projected to accrue $15 billion that will be dedicated to fund MTA capital projects.

State Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach) said that Long Island state senators have ensured “that a dedicated revenue stream will go to the Long Island Rail Road in the billions of dollars.”

He said that having at least $2.5 billion is critical because it means new train cars, station upgrades and improvements to the nuts and bolts of the railroad system that have been disregarded for too long.

School aid was increased by $1 billion, bringing the total to $27.9 billion. The majority of the increased funding, 70 percent, will go to poorer school districts.

State Sen. John Brooks (D-Seaford) said Long Island made out with $1 billion more school aid this year than the region had last year.

“That is a significant accomplishment when you recognize the state of our economy and the challenges we are facing in this state as a result of changes in our tax laws,” he said.

State Assemblyman Ed Ra (R-Franklin Square), in an interview, exhibited less enthusiasm about the enacted state budget, one of the reasons being school funding.

He said he spoke with a local superintendent who said the district was receiving less in the enacted budget than was allocated in the proposed budget. Ra said this is a mishap that he never saw in any of the eight previous budget cycles he has been involved in.
The state Legislature also approved a $208 million increase in higher education funding, which now totals $7.7 billion; raising the annual household income cap to qualify for the state’s free tuition program to $125,000 from $110,000; expanding the state’s universal pre-kindergarten program by adding $15 million in funding; an additional $10 million for the state’s after-school program, which will create 6,250 new slots in high-need communities across the state; $3 million to recruit 250 new teacher candidates who are from minority groups; $5.8 million to subsidize the cost of Advanced Placement courses for students in poverty; $1.5 million to create advanced courses in districts that have few or none; $1.5 million to fund additional master teachers for schools with high teacher turnover; and protections for student loan borrowers by licensing companies that service student loans.

The budget also included full funding of the late state Sen. Jose Peralta’s Dream Act, which will give undocumented immigrants access to various financial assistance programs for higher education.

Some other revenue-gaining initiatives in the newly approved budget include a mansion tax, which will add a 4.15 percent tax on the sale of homes valued over $25 million, and implementing a framework to collect internet sales tax, which is expected to accrue $480 million that would be spent on the MTA capital plan or allocated toward local governments.

A number of reforms to the criminal justice system were passed along with the budget.

Cash bail will be eliminated for misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies in order to reduce the number of people held in jail before trial. Police officers will be required to issue desk appearance tickets to the majority of people charged with misdemeanors or Class E felonies.

The statement from the governor’s office estimates that 90 percent of people who are charged with a crime will remain out of jail until their court date.

Some other criminal justice changes include legislation to cut down the number of people held in jail when awaiting their trial by reducing delays in local courts, requiring all seized assets to be held in an independent account, demanding law enforcement agencies have a use-of-force policy and to report any use-of-force incidents, transforming the use of solitary confinement in state prisons, and eliminating provisions that inhibit formerly incarcerated individuals’ ability to reintegrate into society.

Up to three state prisons will also be shuttered, which is expected to save about $35 million annually.

A resolution to legalize the recreational use of marijuana in the state was not included in the budget.

Kaplan said that this was a tough budget year for New York state. “The federal government’s assault on New York taxpayers has had a big impact on our revenues,” she said. “But I am proud to say we went to Albany to fight for Long Island, to get its fair share and this budget delivers on the priority of our constituents.”

Ra said the budget has negatives that will not be good for Long Island residents, such as the decreased state aid to municipalities and there being no money allocated to the state’s Extreme Winter Recovery fund.  He attributed the issues to a lack of political balance in the state Legislature. He also said that he thinks the governor took advantage of the wave of newcomers in the state government in order to push through the initiatives he wanted.

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