Republican legislators rail against state spending plan, while Farm Bureau and Nature Conservancy are among those pleased with budget.

Republican lawmakers representing the Finger Lakes region had a few choice words for the 2019-2020 state budget that passed Monday.

“A tax-and-spend debacle” and “fiscal disaster,” stated Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb, R-Canandaigua.

A “shameful charade,” stated Sen. Pam Helming, R-Canandaigua.

Fellow Republican, Sen. Rich Funke of Fairport, also railing against the $175.5 billion budget that passed the Democrat-controlled Legislature, tweeted: “If asked to describe this budget in a single word I'd choose TAXES. If two words I'd choose taxes & Fees. Its chock full of them. Only responsible choice was to vote no…”

Sen. Brian Manktelow, R-Lyons, with a mixed reaction, stated: “This past day has been a complete whirlwind, with us passing some good, bad and just plain ugly pieces of legislation with the state’s budget.”

Complaints from local lawmakers cover taxes, fees and policies. The budget includes controversial changes such as a statewide ban on single-use plastic bags; and criminal justice reforms such as eliminating cash bail for those charged with misdemeanors and non-violent crimes, and closing as many as three state prisons to save $35 million as the state’s prison population declines. The facilities will be chosen based on their size and role within the corrections system, with the goal of eliminating 1,200 prison beds.

Other disputed measures include a Dream Act, making financial aid available to students who were brought into the country illegally as children. The measure and the appropriate funds were included in the budget.

The budget includes a new toll for driving in the busiest areas of Manhattan – called “congestion pricing” — to help fund upgrades to the city’s transit system. Funds will also come from a new transfer tax on Manhattan homes that sell for more than $25 million. A tax on internet retail sales and other sales taxes are expected to generate money for counties, according to the budget.

The bag ban will prohibit most single-use plastic bags provided by supermarkets and other retailers starting March 1, 2020. Counties have the option to charge 5 cents for paper bags.

“The apparent economic strategy of New York Democrats is simple: ‘Put a tax or fee on everything you see,’” stated Kolb. “Grocery bags, internet purchases, vapor products, real estate transactions, prescription medication, rental cars, commuting in and around New York City all become more expensive when this budget takes effect.”

Helming stated that when she conducted her 2019 Legislative Questionnaire, her constituents said “making New York more affordable and cutting wasteful spending were their top budget priorities.” Helming stated the budget “does the exact opposite.”

Still, area Republicans largely critical of the budget mentioned a few aspects they agree with.

“Some of the good things we were able to get through was finally passing a permanent property tax cap and the restoration of mental health funding for veterans,” stated Manktelow.

“I’m disappointed with the amount of funding for our schools and local libraries, it isn’t at all where it should be,” added the lawmaker from Wayne County. “The ugliest of all, however, is the lack of fiscal responsibility in addressing New York’s debt, providing tax relief and forcing more mandates on the hard-working people of New York... ."

Budget bright spots?

The budget boosts public education funding by $1 billion to $27.9 billion, with more than $700 million of that going to the state’s poorer school districts. All districts will be required to report how their funding is being allocated to each school within the district. Health care also gets a boost with increased state spending on Medicaid and other health care programs by $700 million to $19.6 billion. The budget codifies the federal Affordable Care Act and the state’s Health Exchange into state law.

Policies aimed at encouraging voters include requiring employers statewide to offer their workers three hours of paid time off to cast a ballot on Election Day. The state will dedicate $20 million for census preparations and set aside $10 million to help counties pay for the roll-out of advance voting, which was approved earlier this year.

In environmental protection, the budget provides another $500 million in clean water infrastructure, in addition to the state’s $2.5 billion investment. The Environmental Protection Fund will receive $300 million.

The Nature Conservancy in New York was one of the organizations celebrating the budget,stating it "includes major wins for New York’s environment.” This marks the fourth year of $300 million for the EPF, while the budget also ensures the integrity of the fund by removing language “that would have allowed an unlimited use of EPF funds for state agency personnel costs,” stated the Nature Conservancy.

On congestion pricing for New York City, Stuart Gruskin, New York chief conservation and external affairs officer, stated the policy “will bring many important benefits to the entire state.”

Gruskin stated it would result in a “reduction in carbon pollution, the driver of climate change, while improving air quality, making the streets safer, and raising money for mass transit improvements.”

He added New York City will be the first city in the nation to enact the policy, “setting a great example for other cities across the country. Around the world, congestion pricing has successfully improved the flow of traffic, reduced pollution, and improved public health, and New York will see those benefits.”

New York State Farm Bureau was another organization positive about the budget.

“New York Farm Bureau is overall pleased with agricultural funding in the final New York State Budget, especially in a difficult year financially with a new political dynamic at play,” stated Farm Bureau President David Fisher. “Important research, marketing and promotion programs farmers rely on were fully funded. Our farmers are also appreciative of the extension of the agricultural workforce tax credit to help offset a portion of rising minimum wage costs as well as making the 2% property tax cap permanent.

“In the end, Governor Cuomo and Assembly leaders, including Agriculture Chair Donna Lupardo, spearheaded efforts to work with the Senate to safeguard agricultural funding, a vitally important part of the spending plan that benefits farmers and consumers alike. We also appreciate Senate Agriculture Chair Jen Metzger and Rural Resources Commission Chair, Senator Rachel May, for their efforts to highlight the importance of farming in their conference.”

Assemblyman Harry Bronson, a Democrat whose district includes Rochester, Henrietta and Chili, applauded the budget on several counts. He cited the millions in state dollars to help the LGBTQ community, including for housing programs, ending the HIV/AIDs epidemic and supporting local organizations like the Out Alliance in Rochester. Bronson stated the criminal justice reforms “provide a level playing field for all New Yorkers, regardless of their financial status.”

“For too long, the scales of justice in our state have been tilted in favor of those with financial resources at the expense of those who are less fortunate,” stated Bronson.

One area of agreement between local Republican and Democratic legislators was $150,000 in funding for the Breast Cancer Coalition of Rochester (BCCR). Both Bronson and Helming stressed their efforts to include the funds so BCCR can “continue providing free programming to breast and gynecological cancer survivors throughout the nine counties in the Finger Lakes region,” stated Bronson on Monday.

“The Breast Cancer Coalition of Rochester continues to expand its outreach and services to more survivors and more rural communities, where access to critical information and services is often lacking,” Helming stated.

Includes reporting by the Associated Press