By Michael Virtanen Associated Press
ALBANY While business groups and Republican legislators praised Gov. Andrew Cuomo's tax cut proposals for the coming year, advocates for New York's disadvantaged expressed dismay at the Democrat's silence on issues like minimum wage, transgender rights and college aid for immigrants.
Heading toward a re-election campaign, Cuomo's wide-ranging State of the State speech this week offered various measures with appeal across the state's political spectrum. He called for universal pre-kindergarten, a medical marijuana research project, and new laws ensuring women's workplace and abortion rights. But the first proposal he touted for 2014 was a corporate tax cut from 7.1 percent to 6.5 percent, followed by estate and bank tax cuts and property tax relief.
"I am very pleased that Gov. Cuomo has been reading from the policy playbook I and my Senate Republican colleagues have advanced," state Sen. Kathy Marchione said. The Saratoga legislator was a harsh critic of the gun controls Cuomo advocated in last year's speech and quickly pushed through, a hallmark law that caused his poll numbers do drop in conservative upstate areas.
The Business Council of New York State lauded the governor's tax proposals and emphasis on keeping state spending growth under 2 percent for a fourth year. Budget officials project revenues growing faster than 2 percent, resulting in operating surpluses rising to $2 billion by the 2016-2017 fiscal year, which Cuomo said he'd use to offset tax cuts.
State Sen. Greg Ball, a Hudson Valley Republican and vocal critic of Cuomo's gun law, gave him "major kudos" for this year's focus on property and other tax relief and jobs.
The governor promised a program to attract more businesses and jobs, proposing a 20 percent rebate for manufacturers' property taxes, which his administration estimated to cost $136 million annually, and eliminating corporate income taxes for upstate manufacturers, estimated at $25 million.
The proposal to offset some local property taxes, effectively freezing rates for two years, would cost about $1 billion or $350 on average for nearly 2.8 million homeowners. That would be followed by tax relief for 1.9 million lower-income homeowners for about $1 billion and about $400 million for 2.6 million low-income renters.
The administration's budget proposal, expected to contain more detail, is due Jan. 21 for the fiscal year that starts in April.
"He's in a contest with right-wing Republicans" for the conservative fiscal position, said former Democratic Assemblyman Richard Brodsky. What's still unproven is the assumption that tax cuts will result in economic growth, he said.
Cuomo said the tax cuts and credits would keep New York moving in the right direction "creating jobs, growing the economy and providing much-needed relief for struggling families."
The Working Families Party called those worthy goals but said the proposals overall redistribute too much money to the wealthiest few. "The governor's trickle-down plan, replete with estate and corporate tax cuts, only serves to cement New York's status as the inequality capital of the world," said party state director Bill Lipton.
Cuomo proposed reducing New York's estate tax from 16 percent to 10 percent over four years and raising the exemption from $1 million to $5.25 million, protecting 90 percent of estates from the state tax and eliminating the incentive for elderly New Yorkers to go elsewhere.
Michael Kink of the Strong Economy for All Coalition said lawmakers should reject Cuomo's "billion-dollar-a-year tax break for millionaires, billionaires and Wall Street," citing the estate tax and the proposed merging of the bank tax into the corporate franchise tax and lowering the rate to 6.5 percent.
The administration said the bank tax change, eliminating a disincentive for financial firms to invest in New York, would cut $346 million in taxes when fully implemented in the 2016-2017 fiscal year.