2015-03-16 / Opinion

Guest Commentary

State Senator James Seward

SewardSewardSignificant property tax relief for middle-class homeowners, an unprecedented education aid increase, meaningful new incentives to grow businesses and a sustained plan to improve our upstate roads and bridges are among the highlights of the recently adopted state Senate budget resolution. The proposal is titled “The Brighter Future Budget Plan” and it is a sound blueprint for moving our state forward.

One of the prime focuses in the Senate budget is education funding. At the start of the year, I voiced the importance of ending the Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA) which has created financial havoc for our schools. This budget accomplishes that while also raising school aid through a fair and equitable formula.

Higher education is also given its due. The Senate budget makes college more affordable for New York families by increasing community college base aid by $100 and raising the Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) ceiling to include families making up to $100,000 a year, rather than the current $80,000 income limit, benefiting an additional 15,800 students.

In addition, the Senate budget doubles the college tuition tax credit (from $400 to $800) which has not been increased in 15 years and doubles the allowable deduction (from $10,000 to $20,000). It also permits recent graduates to deduct 100 percent of the interest on their student loans for residents maintaining full compliance with the terms of their loan repayment plan.

Educating our next generation of leaders is vital, however, we also want to make certain there are job opportunities for them here at home. The Senate plan includes a $200 million small business package to do just that. Among other things, the Senate’s plan would increase the business income tax exemption from five percent to 10 percent for all businesses and farms that file under the personal income tax, have no more than $500,000 in business income, and at least one employee. This would save more than half a million New York businesses and farms $125 million annually. The plan would also completely eliminate the job-killing 18-a energy tax surcharge this year instead of in two years, saving homeowners and businesses $285 million.

The Senate budget also takes aim at property taxes by creating a new property tax rebate program. The rebate, when combined with the existing property tax freeze credit, will provide the average New York homeowner with a rebate check totaling $458. Along with the STAR exemption, homeowners would receive the most property tax relief in state history this year. The property tax cap will also be made permanent, continuing this proven tax-saving tool.

There is also substantial funding to improve our crumbling infrastructure. The Senate proposes $1.5 billion for highway and bridge upgrades as part of a new five-year capital program – doubling the governor’s proposal. Funding is also set aside for regionally significant economic development projects ($700 million), upstate transit capital projects ($25 million), and the Main Street Revitalization program ($50 million) to assist local governments in cleaning up blighted areas. As a result of this year’s historically severe winter, the Senate budget also adds $50 million for the Consolidated Highway Improvement Program (CHIPs).

The Senate’s budget plan makes major new investments in New York’s environment, including a substantial increase in funding for the Environmental Protection Fund (EPF). Under the Senate’s plan, the EPF will be funded with $200 million to support critical environmental initiatives, clean air and water projects and open space preservation, and a new energy efficiency category will be created. This reflects a $38 million increase over last year.

Now the Senate and Assembly will convene conference committees and work together, in concert with the governor, to resolve any differences. This is a process that has generated positive results over the last four years, and I am confident will once again pave the way to the adoption of a final budget that cuts taxes, grows jobs, and provides for a brighter future locally and statewide.

Return to top