Cuomo unveils $145.3 billion budget plan, initiatives

- Gov. Andrew Cuomo's $145.3 billion budget proposal unveiled Wednesday proposes spending the state's $2.3 billion windfall from court settlements to house the poor and homeless, freeze Thruway tolls and make large investments in public infrastructure.

In his annual State of the State address, the Democratic governor also called for raising the minimum wage to $15, cutting small-business taxes and boosting the environmental protection fund.

"We stand stronger than at any point in recent history," Cuomo told the audience gathered in a convention hall adjacent to the Capitol. "The Empire State is poised to grow and to lead."

Many of the proposals detailed Wednesday had already been rolled out by Cuomo in the past two weeks in a series of appearances around the state.

His budget further details plans to revamp Penn Station and expand the Javits convention center in Manhattan, add a third rail line for the Long Island Rail Road, redesign 30 New York City subway stations, revitalize upstate airports and spend $22 billion on highways and bridges.

Tolls on the Thruway and the Tappan Zee Bridge would be frozen until 2020, and drivers who spend at least $50 annually on Thruway tolls could get a tax credit equal to 50 percent of the tolls paid.

Other proposals include pardons for young offenders who don't commit new crimes, more municipal contracting with minority and women-owned businesses and adding college courses in prisons. The governor also wants to end the state's prohibition on professional mixed-martial arts bouts.

Cuomo is proposing to increase public school spending by $1 billion to $24.2 billion. The state Regents had called for $2.4 billion more in school aid. Advocates want even more.

To boost the economy Cuomo recommends cutting the income tax rate for small businesses from 6.5 percent to as little as 4 percent effective next year. Cuts would apply to businesses with less than 100 employees and net income below $390,000.

Minutes after Cuomo began the annual speech before an audience of several hundred people, Assemblyman Charles Barron stood up and began yelling over the governor. Cuomo tried to quiet him, telling Barron, "Everybody heard you; everybody saw you."

After a few tense moments, Barron left the convention hall. He told reporters that he believes Cuomo is ignoring the needs of poor New Yorkers and should propose at least $2 billion more for public education, particularly for high-need schools.

Cuomo met with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio ahead of the speech. Cuomo is expected to announce the details of his plan to address homelessness, particularly in New York City, after his administration criticized the mayor's handling of the issue. The plan is expected to include help for shelters as well as supportive housing.

"The governor and I talked for about a half hour," de Blasio told reporters outside Cuomo's office. "It was a productive conversation."

The court settlements Cuomo wants to divert to homelessness and other programs came from banks that were investigated for violations of U.S. trading sanctions and mishandling home mortgage-related securities and foreclosures.

The governor has also promised to address Albany's continuing corruption problem, following the convictions last year of ex-Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and former Senate Leader Dean Skelos. Possibilities include limits on lawmakers' outside income and changes to campaign finance rules that allow limited liability corporations to skirt donation limits.

Hundreds of low-wage workers gathered in the Capitol complex ahead of the speech to support Cuomo's call to raise the minimum wage. A group of environmental activists including actor James Cromwell rallied outside the Capitol in favor of renewable energy.

A year ago, Cuomo proposed a $141.6 billion budget for the current fiscal year, which ends March 31.

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