Local legislators react to Cuomo’s State of the State address

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On Jan. 15, Gov. Andrew Cuomo delivered his ninth State of the State address, and unveiled his proposed $175 billion budget for fiscal year 2020.

Cuomo framed his address in terms of a “justice agenda” for the state this year, particularly in the face of federal government actions, including the 2017 tax-code changes, which, he said, threaten the state’s economic viability.

“We face real challenges in the state of New York,” Cuomo said. “We have a federal government that is assaulting our values, our liberties, our rights and our economy — literally, our economy.”

The governor said he would push for the Legislature to make permanent the 2 percent cap on local property tax growth, which he said has saved the average homeowner $3,200. “At least if we can say the 2 percent is going to be adhered to,” Cuomo said, “I think it will help give people confidence in the system … It’s making a difference in people’s lives.”

Last week State Sen. Jim Gaughran, a Huntington Democrat, introduced a bill to make the property tax cap permanent, which he said was expected to pass the Senate on Wednesday. “It is critical that New York state takes steps to provide real tax relief to Long Islanders while the federal government continues its attack on New York taxpayers,” he said. “We need a permanent tax cap for permanent relief.”

State Assemblyman Michael Montesano, a Glen Head Republican, said while his party supports a permanent 2 percent tax cap, state Republicans are also encouraging Cuomo to provide unfunded mandate relief. “This past week the governor indicated that he’s not providing aid to municipalities, and a lot of villages and towns are getting blindsided,” Montesano said. “How do you have a tax cap, and, at the same token, take away aid and put unfunded mandates on top of it?”

Meanwhile, Cuomo’s lawsuit on behalf of the state against Congress for the curtailed state and local tax deductions will continue, and he said that New York Democrats in the House of Representatives — now in the majority — will demand that the deduction be fully restored. The cap on the deduction, instituted in 2017, amounted to a 30 percent tax increase for New Yorkers, Cuomo said.

“What the federal government did with SALT was, it penalized New York more than it did any other state,” he said. “New York State is the number one donor state in the United States of America. We send more money to Washington than we get back, and we send more money that we don’t get back than any other state in the nation.”

While Gaughran said he urges the federal government to restore full SALT deductions, Montesano is taking the “wait and see” approach. “While I’m concerned as a property owner there are pieces of the legislation that take away certain taxes I was paying,” he said, citing increases for personal and childcare deductions and the eradication of the alternative minimum tax for most taxpayers. “The damage is not going to be as bad as anticipated.”

Cuomo also included legislation in the budget proposal addressing the ongoing property reassessment in Nassau County (see box). Montesano called the move “inappropriate” on the part of the governor, and said that lawmakers should debate the measure as a stand-alone bill.

The governor is proposing an increase in school aid statewide by 3.6 percent, or about $1 billion, to $27.7 billion. The state Board of Regents had requested $2.1 billion more in school aid, including a $1.7 billion increase in foundation aid.

Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa said that Cuomo’s proposed $338 million in additional foundation aid fell far short of what would equalize schools, or even keep up with demographic changes.

Gaughran took issue with the governor’s proposal. “I don’t feel that the Long Island school districts are getting enough state aid, and I plan to work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to fully restore aid for Long Island school districts,” he said.

Alyssa Seidman contributed to this story.