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Stec, Little: new state budget has virtues, shortfalls

State Sen. Betty Little and State Assemblyman Dan Stec, both Republicans from Queensbury, presented a legislative update recently to a gathering in Glens Falls. Soon after the 2014-15 state budget agreement was reached early this week, they expressed their reactions to its various provisions.

State Sen. Betty Little and State Assemblyman Dan Stec, both Republicans from Queensbury, presented a legislative update recently to a gathering in Glens Falls. Soon after the 2014-15 state budget agreement was reached early this week, they expressed their reactions to its various provisions. Photo by Thom Randall.

— Less than an hour before the start of the new fiscal year on April 1, the state legislature passed the 2014-15 state budget.

Although Gov. Andrew Cuomo characterized the budget was a “grand slam” that would “build on the state’s progress over the past three years in boosting the economy,” state and local legislative leaders offered mixed reactions.

Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos praised how Republicans and Democrats worked in a bipartisan effort on the budget, but Assembly GOP Leader Brian Kolb sounded more critical, saying the budget agreement “fell short” and reflected “missed opportunities.”

Spending on Education was controversial, spurring hours of debate over funding for statewide full-day pre-kindergarten, charter schools and the new Common Core testing standards. Overall school aid funding was increased by $1.1 billion.

The budget agreement also features a $2 billion school technology bond act, subject to approval by voters in November.

Legislators spent hours debating public financing for political campaigns while people picketed for reform outside on the Capitol steps. The budget includes a pilot program for public campaign finance — involving only this year’s State Comptroller race. Public advocacy groups, concerned about the influence of lobbyists and wealthy campaign contributors, said the program didn’t go far enough, and that public financing should be instituted for all statewide offices.

Also approved was raising the threshold of the state’s estate tax, allowing citizens to pass more assets down to their heirs without state taxes. Exemptions from New York’s estate taxes would rise from $1 million to $2.06 million immediately and up to $5.25 million in 2017. Cuomo had campaigned for the change, noting that thousands of New Yorkers now move to Florida so they can avoid estate taxes.

Also approved was a tax relief plan that helps homeowners whose local governments keep spending within the state tax cap the first year and enact cost-saving measures the following year.

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