Little by little, he’s getting more specific.
For weeks, if not months, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has been crowing that New York was “already the most progressive state in the nation” and, with Republicans relegated to a minority at every level of government, Democrats were just getting started.
"The time for talking is over," Cuomo said. "It is the time for doing."
On Tuesday, he took a laundry list of proposals—many of them longstanding legislative goals perennially blocked by the state GOP—and attached dollar signs to them.
Legalizing marijuana, he said, would net the state $300 million in sales tax revenue. Robert Mujica, Cuomo’s budget director, anticipated it would take three years to reach that plateau. The proposed tax would be around 22 percent, wholesale and retail, not including taxes the state would levy on growers.
The revenue would be spent on a long list of administrative and public-health projects related to marijuana.
Advocates have argued for the money to fund projects in under-served communities hit the hardest by the criminalization of marijuana. In his speech, the governor seemed in sync.
“Let’s create an industry that empowers the poor communities that paid the price and not the rich corporations who come in to make a profit,” he said. But his budget book only mentioned in passing “small business and loans” as one of several target areas for spending cannabis tax proceeds.
He also would allow counties and large cities to opt out of marijuana legalization, a loophole that Senator Julia Salazar (D-Brooklyn) called “unacceptable” in a tweet.
“New Yorkers have been enormously harmed by criminalization,” she wrote. “Alleviating that harm must be our top priority.”
On congestion pricing and transit, Cuomo reiterated last year’s proposal to charge drivers in the business district of Manhattan below 60th Street a surcharge and to add tolls to the East River bridges.
He said the congestion pricing plan would generate about $15 billion for much needed capital improvements for the MTA—and that any shortfall in funding should be split 50-50 between New York City and the state.
Cuomo spent much of the last year trying to get the city to share these expenses, but David Friedfel, from the Citizens Budget Commission, said the governor’s claim of fairness was missing some crucial information.
“So much of the state revenue and the dedicated taxes and fees in the MTA region already come from local taxpayers,” Friedfel said. “So you’re asking them to contribute twice.”
Cuomo’s budget proposal also set up a potential fight over school aid. He proposed a $1 billion increase in school aid—about half of what was recommended by the Board of Regents—and he wants to revamp the school aid formula.
The governor said funding inequality was not about too little aid going to the state’s poorest districts. He said the districts themselves are not distributing the money properly.
“The additional need has to go to the poorer school and the poorer student,” Cuomo said.
Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa and Education Commissioner Maryellen Elia, in a joint statement, said they are “extremely alarmed” with the governor’s proposal to include just $338 million in Foundation Aid, which is directed toward the state’s neediest schools.
They said the proposal “falls far short of what schools need to achieve equity, or even keep pace with inflation and demographic changes.”
Democratic lawmakers, including Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, were positive about the governor’s overall budget message, but said they would work to increase school aid in the final budget.
“We always like to see as much education funding as possible,” Heastie said. “Knowing our conference, we’re going to want to see more spending.”
Senate Deputy Minority Leader Joe Griffo, a Republican who also supports more money for schools, said it seems like Cuomo is blaming the school districts for problems created by the state.
“It appeared that way,” said Griffo, who added he believes in local control of school districts. “We should be looking to the districts to get their guidance and their information as to what they believe is necessary and essential to get the job done to educate the children.”
With reporting from Karen Dewitt, Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio.