Capitol Watch: Senate OKs tax relief bill, budget bonanza
ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — In New York state government news, lawmakers are looking ahead to a busy week of budget hearings and members of the state Senate are waiting to see if the Assembly backs their plan to save taxpayers $1.5 billion. Meanwhile, Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo is pushing a new plan to boost a little-known corner of the state’s growing craft alcohol industry.
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These are heady days for bean counters in Albany as the Legislature heads into one of the busiest weeks of the year for the state budget.
The Senate and Assembly are scheduled to look at state spending on economic development Monday. Public safety is on tap for Tuesday, with public education funding planned for Wednesday.
The hearings, which often stretch for hours, are the best opportunity for members of the public, journalists and advocates to study the guts of the $168 billion state budget proposal before top lawmakers and Cuomo begin backroom negotiations.
The governor is seeking $769 million in new school funding, to bring the total to $26.3 billion. Cuomo’s proposal includes more for after-school expansion, to expand pre-kindergarten and to help high-need schools.
The details of the budget are likely to change substantially before it is approved this spring. Lawmakers hope to pass the spending plan by April 1. Hearings scheduled for next month include ones focused on local government, social services, economic development, health care and taxes.
“They like to say that the holidays are the most wonderful time of the year,” said Sen. Catharine Young, chairwoman of the Senate Finance Committee. “Actually New York state budget time is the most wonderful time of the year.”
SENATE GOP TAX RELIEF
Members of the state Senate are calling on the Assembly to follow their lead in passing a $1.5 billion tax relief measure.
The highly technical legislation would tweak the state’s tax rules to separate it from the federal tax code. Because much of the state’s tax code is based on the federal law, big changes included in the recent tax overhaul in Washington will have significant and in some cases unforeseen effects on the state’s own tax code.
Under the new rules, the state stands to receive $1.5 billion in additional tax payments. Most of the new money would be paid by taxpayers who can no longer take advantage of former deductions. It amounts to an unexpected windfall for the state, but not if lawmakers vote to negate it.
The bill, which passed the Senate unanimously Tuesday, would restore many of those lost deductions at the state level and make other changes that add up to $1.5 billion in tax relief.
Now the bill moves to the Assembly. No vote is scheduled. Members of the Senate say the bill is essential.
“We’re responsible to do everything in our power to save hardworking, over-taxed New Yorkers from any additional tax burdens,” said Sen. Simcha Felder, a Brooklyn Democrat. “New Yorkers shouldn’t be the collateral damage of federal tax reform. This bill rights an egregious injustice that would have cost New York taxpayers billions.”
Cuomo has proposed far more sweeping changes to the state’s tax code that he says are needed to soften the blow of the new federal tax law, which will raise the federal taxes of many New Yorkers by capping a deduction for state and local taxes at $10,000.
NEED FOR MEAD
For several years now the state has worked to boost its burgeoning craft alcohol industry with incentives and regulatory reforms intended to help wineries, craft brewers, distillers and even hard cider makers.
Now it’s time for mead, the alcoholic beverage containing fermented honey that dates back thousands of years.
Cuomo said Thursday that he wants the state to create new licenses for “farm meaderies,” or facilities that use New York honey to produce mead.
At a cost of $75, a farm license would enable meaderies to sell by the glass and offer tastings, open restaurants and sell their products in branch stores.
Cuomo also wants to allow farm meaderies to produce a drink known as “braggot,” made with honey and malted barley.
“New York is the number one producer of honey in the Northeast, and by increasing opportunities for farms to produce mead, our thriving craft beverage manufacturing sector will continue to grow,” Cuomo said.
The state now has 703 farm beer, wine, liquor or cider producers, up from 282 in 2012.