ALBANY — Gov. Andrew Cuomo is on his way to becoming the nation's highest paid state chief executive after lawmakers — in the final act of approving a $175.5 billion spending plan — agreed to give him a pay raise of nearly 39 percent, bringing his government pay to $250,000 in 2021.
The current annual salary for governor is $179,000, a sum that has been constant since 1999.
Some Republicans criticized the raises that went to Cuomo and Lt Gov. Kathy Hochul, both Democrats, noting they came against the backdrop of a $20 million reduction in library construction assistance and a $50,000 reduction for Special Olympics, a competition for people with disabilities, while the governor angles to close up to three prisons.
Sen. Rob Ortt, R-North Tonawanda, said while Special Olympics funding was being trimmed, the Democratic majorities in the Senate and Assembly passed a budget that included hundreds of millions in tax breaks for movie and television studios. "It’s a shame that here in New York, Democrats are so tone deaf that they cut funding for the Special Olympics," he said.
The hefty raise for the governor drew attention from advocates who had been pressing lawmakers to drive through cost of living raises for human services workers, most of whom are women earning slightly more than the state's minimum hourly wage.
Ron Deutsch, director of the labor-backed Fiscal Policy Institute, said the human services workers have gone without cost of living adjustments for more than a decade. "The governor gives himself a raise and pays lip service to gender pay equity while leaving a predominantly female workforce out in the cold once again," Deutsch said. He noted that 60 percent of the workers in question could qualify for public assistance benefits.
The nation's highest paid governor is Gavin Newsom of California, the country's most populous state. He earns $202,000 a year. Cuomo's pay goes to $200,000 as a result of the budget and will increase to $225,000 next year. It would jump to $250,000 in 2021. The boost would also increase the value of his New York pension when he retires.
The salary for lieutenant governor would climb in steps from the current $151,500 to $220,000 in 2021.
The passing of an on-time budget ended the first round of the 2019 legislative season and lawmakers will remain in Albany for the next 2-1/2 months, reviewing measures advanced by Cuomo and several Democratic lawmakers to legalize adult use of marijuana.
Cuomo pronounced the spending blueprint the "best" one the state has had in years.
But Assembly GOP Leader Brian Kolb, R-Canandaigua, said numerous "deserving" programs were cut or got no additional dollars.
"The idea that Democrats gave Andrew Cuomo a pay raise after all he’s done to undermine and diminish the role of the Legislature is utterly bewildering," Kolb said.
The budget package included measures making the state's 2 percent property tax cap permanent and expanding the sales tax on goods purchased from internet retailers. The budget also includes an excise tax on prescription opioid medication and changes in criminal justice statutes that will prevent bail being set for many people charged with misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies.
The move to make the property tax cap permanent was praised by the New York Farm Bureau and the business lobby. "This is a major win for hardworking individuals and businesses in the state of New York," said Randy Wolken, president of the Manufacturers Association of Central New York.
Democrats put the accent on what they saw as the budget's bright spots.
Noting the state faces "real fiscal constraints," Sen. Jen Metzger, D-Rosendale, said: “While tough decisions were made in the course of negotiations, we were nonetheless able to secure important funding for our schools, hospitals and nursing homes, clean water infrastructure projects, and programs to address the opioid crisis, among other priorities.”
Republicans said they voted against all budget bills with the exception of one that allowed the state to pay for its debt obligations.
Sen. Betty Little, R-Queensbury, said she is worried that changes to the bail statute will leave police agencies seeing outstanding arrest warrants grow as a result of defendants skipping court appearances.
"A lot of the things we had to vote on hadn't been fully vetted," she said, predicting county and municipal governments will be stuck with higher costs as a result of adoption of early voting and increasing the number of hours polling stations are open on primary election days.
While Democrats had insisted on much greater support for school districts, Cuomo "got pretty much what he wanted" in the final budget for the fiscal year that began Monday, said Sen. Jim Seward, R-Milford.
"My problem with the budget is that it is making New York state a more expensive and less safe place to be," said Seward. He said the spending plan will leave New Yorkers facing $1.4 billion in new taxes and fees, a number that will surge to $4.5 billion the following fiscal year.
Lawmakers addressed what has been a growing patchwork of local regulation on shopping bags by crafting a statewide solution. Single-use plastic bags handed out at grocery stores will be banned effective next March, and it will be optional for local governments to impose a fee of five cents on paper bags.
Lawmakers agreed to set up a commission to review the implementation of a taxpayer-funded campaign system for legislative and statewide races. The panel is expected to consider contribution limits for donors giving to those campaigns.
The League of Women Voters of New York State argued New York needs more than a commission to counter the influence of money in elections.
"We agree that it is important to get the details of any public matching system correct, but this is what our representatives are elected and paid to do, rather than delegate their responsibilities to an unaccountable commission," said the league's director, Leslie Ladd Bierman.
In a move intended to bring greater accountability to the state's school tax relief programs, homeowners with household income of $250,000 to $500,000 will have to pay their full school tax bill before getting a state rebate check on the savings from the state's STAR program.
Joe Mahoney covers the New York Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org .