These have been trying times for our state and nation. One of the lessons that could be taken from the 2016 election is that our values are all being questioned, blamed and attacked. In recent months, we’ve seen a surge in bias-motivated threats, harassment and acts of violence.
We heard the argument that the success of the middle class is being directly impeded by our policies of diversity and inclusion. We have seen the federal government attempt and fail to take a wrecking ball to our health care system, and attempt and fail to create a religious test for immigration. Soon, Congress will start scrambling to cut taxes for the few at the expense of everyone else.
In New York, we say no. We have rejected the politics of division and are forging our own path. With our agreement on a $153 billion budget for 2017, New York State has issued a bold and optimistic statement of our values. We are saying without equivocation: New York is moving forward. This budget agreement invests in our middle class, cuts taxes for working families, strengthens our economy and expands opportunity for all. And it does so even while keeping the rate of spending at an all-time low — held to 2% for the past seven years.
In a response to the most intense period of domestic turbulence in half a century, and with the middle class feeling increasingly ignored and frustrated, our budget makes clear that progressive beliefs, far from being impediments to the middle class, are in fact the foundation upon which the middle class was built in the first place, and on which it will grow stronger.
New York state senate passes $153.1B budget nine days late
With this budget, New York becomes the first state in the nation to provide tuition-free college at our excellent public universities for families making up to $125,000 per year. Nearly 80% of New York families qualify for the program. New York is well-positioned to benefit from the industries of tomorrow, and this budget ensures that our young people will have a full and equal opportunity to compete for high-paying jobs, without having to incur a mountain of debt in the process. To further emphasize the significance of education, the budget also increases access to electronic books to further cut college expenses.
And we are also making record investments in educational outcomes all across the state. With increases of $386.8 million in New York City and $1.1 billion statewide, New York State’s total educational investment amounts to $25.8 billion, the most in history, ensuring that our children and teenagers are provided with every opportunity to succeed.
The budget includes other significant advancements. For too long, the soaring price of prescription drugs has prevented our most vulnerable from accessing the lifesaving treatment they need. Not anymore. We are capping the price of prescription drug spending in Medicaid to ensure equal access for all.
This budget advances the pursuit of social justice. Draconian punishments for youthful offenders have ruined countless lives, so we are finally raising the age of criminal responsibility to 18 and stopping young people from being jailed on Rikers Island after Oct. 1, 2018. The budget also commits $10 million to the nation-leading Liberty Defense Project, which will provide free legal assistance to immigrants, regardless of their citizenship status, and enforces our anti-discrimination and hate-crimes laws in every instance of prejudice through the newly established $1 million Hate Crimes Task Force.
Building on the state’s historic $100 billion infrastructure program, this budget also advances world-class projects, including the new LaGuardia Airport already underway, a completely transformed Penn Station, the long-awaited Bruckner-Sheridan Interchange and the Kosciusko Bridge. Today, we are not just planning what we will need in the 21st century, we are building it. And by continuing to strengthen organized labor by allowing members to deduct dues from their taxes, we are ensuring that while these workers are building the new New York, they will continue to sustain our middle class.
There is no doubt that challenges lie ahead, especially with an ultra-conservative Congress committed to policies that will hurt the middle class and the most vulnerable among us. In keeping with our duty to be responsible, this budget has incorporated enough flexibility to allow for as-yet-unknown federal policies, and to protect New Yorkers’ rights.
Never has New York achieved more, built more or produced more impactful legislation. Guided by our shared belief in a better tomorrow, we will continue working until the bright light of opportunity shines on everyone. During these times of anxiety and uncertainty, New York will continue to lead the nation forward. Excelsior.
Governor Cuomo’s Op-Ed originally appeared in the New York Daily News