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New York budget includes several reforms

ALBANY, NY — Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Senate and Assembly reached a budget deal on March 31, just hours short of the deadline. The deal includes $24.7 million in funding to pay for voting reforms that were passed earlier, which include early voting, the consolidation of state and federal primary election days and setting up an online voter registration system.

“These investments to update our election systems will expand voters’ access to the polls,” said Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie. “This funding will allow local and state boards of elections to implement the comprehensive package of reforms the legislature passed earlier to ensure all New Yorkers have a voice in our government.”

Also regarding voting and election, the budget legislation includes closing the Limited Liability Corporation (LLC) loophole, which had allowed LLCs to make unlimited donations to political candidates.

The budget also appropriated $100 million to pay for public financing of elections in the state. A commission will be appointed to come up with the details of a public financing system by December. That system will be binding, unless the legislature reconvenes and votes to reject or change it before January 1.

 

Plastic bag ban

The budget legislation includes a ban on most single-use plastic bags, which will take effect on March 1, 2020.  Counties will also be able to put a surcharge on paper bags of five cents each, with the proceeds split between two recipients. Three cents will go toward the Environmental Protection Fund and three cents will go to local governments. New York is now the second state to pass a statewide mandated ban, after California.

The ban will apply to any store in the state that collects sales tax, including grocery stores. Retail outlets will still be able to use plastic bags for containing uncooked meat and a few other items. Also, consumers will still be able to purchase plastic trash and food storage bags.

 

Internet sales tax 

The budget expands the taxation of goods and

services bought on the internet. The increase is expected to bring $160 million in revenue to counties outside of New York City.

This is not quite as much as was expected when the proposal was first announced, because $60 million of the revenue from the expanded sales tax will go to replace funding from the Aid and Incentives to Municipalities (AIM) program, which Cuomo proposed cutting this year.

AIM funding in the past had gone to all of the municipalities in Sullivan County, and local officials in Sullivan and across the state pushed back strongly against the cuts, which prompted Cuomo to suggest the internet sales tax fix.

 

Criminal justice reform  

One of Cuomo’s highest priorities was reforming the criminal justice system in the state, and especially the system of cash bail, which Cuomo and others said punishes poor people most.

With the reforms contained in this budget legislation, cash bail will be eliminated for misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies, which, according to Cuomo, will result in 90% of people charged with crimes avoiding going to jail before the resolution of their cases.

Cuomo said, “This criminal justice reform… [means] cash and wealth are not a proxy for justice. The justice system never said ‘and then we’ll determine who gets to go home and who gets to sit in Rikers Island Prison, depending on how much money you can raise.’ That was not justice. This eliminates that.”

 

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