Minimum wage, worker's comp central in Cuomo budget

January 23, 2013 Updated Jan 23, 2013 at 8:20 AM EDT

By WKBW News
By Adam Sichko, Albany Business Review

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January 23, 2013 Updated Jan 23, 2013 at 8:20 AM EDT

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo laid out a budget Tuesday that increases the state's minimum wage while trying to reduce the cost of workers' compensation.

Cuomo's budget lays out a spending plan for the state's upcoming fiscal year and explains how he intends to pay for the long list of priorities he outlined earlier this month in his State of the State speech.

Details on Cuomo's many plans had not emerged as of mid-afternoon, as Cuomo's speech was still ongoing.

Cuomo's $136.5 billion budget increases state spending, but does so at a rate below 2 percent, aligning with inflation as he has in the past two fiscal years.

The budget erases a deficit of $1.35 billion. Cuomo pledged to erase the gap with no "new" taxes and fees.

"The taxpayer's pocket is not a bottomless piggy bank," Cuomo said. "We don't need new taxes. If we did do new taxes, I think we would seriously interrupt the progress we've been making."

That said, Cuomo's budget extends several taxes already in effect.

For instance, Cuomo's budget would add five years onto the lifespan of what was supposed to be a temporary tax on utility companies-a cost built into the rates and bills paid by businesses and consumers. The tax generates between $236 million to $472 million a year for the state.

Cuomo touted that the past two state budgets had been balanced and on-time.

"It fundamentally changed our relationship with the business community. It fundamentally signaled a different day," Cuomo said. "You think you knew New York? Come take a second look."

Cuomo wants to raise New York's minimum wage by $1.50 an hour, to $8.75. With that 21 percent boost, Cuomo said wages would rise by more than $1 billion a year for more than 700,000 workers.

Business groups are dividing on whether to support the call for an increase in the minimum wage. Cuomo has not yet said if he's willing to phase-in the wage hike over time, or offer tax credits to help offset the increase.

Cuomo has pledged to repair workers' comp in the state. About 10,000 businesses statewide still owe money on outstanding claims from workers' comp trusts that went insolvent starting in 2006.

Plus, employers in New York pay a 19 percent tax on their workers' comp premiums-highest in the nation.

Cuomo has also pledged to fix the bankrupt state fund for paying unemployment benefits. The fund is solely supported by taxes on businesses-and it's more than $3 billion in the red.

Many business groups anticipate that fixing both will require increasing taxes and costs to businesses in the short run, in order to set up both systems for longer-term stability and predictability.

"After a period of severe instability, New York's finances are finally on sound footing," said state budget director Robert Megna.

The presentation also noted money set aside for improvements to Ralph Wilson Stadium, home of the Buffalo Bills.

"An annual support for the operation, that's about $60 million," said Cuomo. "All I can tell you is for $60 million dollars, the Bills better win this year."

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