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Progressive think tank rates good and bad of Cuomo's budget


A left leaning thank tank is out with its assessment of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s budget. They say there’s a lot to like and dislike about it.

Ron Deutsch is with Fiscal Policy Institute, a progressive leaning think tank in part funded by the unions. He said Cuomo deserves credit for pushing a phase in for a $15 minimum wage for all low income earners in the state.

“It would be the first in the nation,” Deutsch said. “We think now is the time to get that done.”

He said he also likes the governor’s revised paid family leave proposal, which would phase in a rate of 2/3 of a worker’s pay  for up to 12 weeks of time off to care for a newborn or sick family member. And, Deutsch said the governor seems more enthusiastic than ever about addressing homelessness and poverty.

But, he said his group is against the governor’s aim to continue to hold the line on state spending to no more than 2 percent growth per year.

“The very people he’s looking to help, the homeless and the poor are necessarily hurt by the governor’s self imposed two percent state spending cap,” Deutsch said.

Fiscal Policy Institute said the recession is over, the state is running a surplus, tax collections are running above projections, and average incomes are going up. He said the lack of investment is becoming a drag on the state’s economy.

And Deutsch says the $2.3 billion windfall surplus from bank settlements could be redirected for other purposes. $340 million of the surplus is designated to reduce Thruway tolls. He said some of that money would be better used for the governor’s anti upstate poverty initiative which currently is budgeted at $25 million.

“You are not even going to put a dent in the astronomical child poverty rates with $25 million,” he said.

The progressive leaning think tank is in agreement with more conservative budget analysts on the topic of Thruway Tolls. EJ McMahon, with the fiscally conservative Empire Center, also said cutting tolls is not a good use of the surplus money.

“This is in several respects the complete opposite of the policy he should be following,” McMahon said

McMahon said the governor has not yet fully figured out how to pay for the new Tappan Zee Bridge over the Hudson, which up until now has been financed by tolls.

Fiscal Policy Institute also agrees with the Empire Center on another issue. Both say there needs to be greater accountability on how well the annual $8 billion in economic development investment is doing in creating actual jobs. Deutsch said he’d like to see the state’s Empire State Development Corporation provide a more detailed data base, so everyone can see “what were the jobs promised versus the jobs created."

“Only that way will we ever know if we are getting a good bang for our buck,” Deutsch said. “And what we are paying, per job, to be created.”

Cuomo’s ideas need to be approved by the legislature. Senate Republicans have not yet signed on to the minimum wage increase, while Assembly Democrats are seeking a more progressive taxation structure that puts millionaires in a higher tax bracket.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.