Cuomo Proposes Putting Brakes, On Breaks For Speeders

8:42 PM, Jan 26, 2013   |    comments
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ALBANY - Gov. Andrew Cuomo made good on a pledge to keep new taxes out of his proposed budget for the next fiscal year. Some existing or expiring fees, however, received new life.

Cuomo also proposes putting the brakes, on a break that has customarily been extended to those who get an "occasional" speeding ticket.

In many municipalities across the state, if you go to court, chances have been that if you have decent driving record, you are offered a chance to plead guilty instead... to a parking violation.

It is an expensive "parking ticket", perhaps anywhere from $80-$125.

However, there will be no points on your license, and your insurance carrier is none the wiser.

Local courts are eager as well to cut you this "break" because, as a non-moving violation, their municipality gets to keep the entire fine, and doesn't have to send any of it to the state.

But the Governor's budget proposal contains language precluding local judges from allowing drivers to plead a ticket down to anything less than a moving violation if it's more than 20 mph over the speed limit.

And even those they can reduce, would be subject to a new $80 mandatory state surcharge, meaning Albany would get its cut either way.

"I saw that in the budget...but that's a proposal ...I don t think it's something that's going to fly," said New York State Senator Mark Grisanti (R-Buffalo). "Now that I've been moved in one of my committee assignments from housing to finance, that's something, I'm going to take a look at."

However, the state's Lieutenant Governor is less than sympathetic.

"Here's the answer, it's really simple. Don't speed," Robert Duffy told WGRZ during a visit to Buffalo on Friday.

"Drivers should not complain about the extra surcharge on tickets, because if they drive the speed limit there should be no impact on them whatsoever. If you obey the speed limit, you won't have any problems with any additional fines in traffic court, and it will make for a safer state," Duffy said.

It might also make for a poorer one in terms of revenue.

According to the New York Daily News, state figures show 536,000 tickets - including nearly 311,000 for speeding and reckless driving - were plea-bargained in 2010, the most recent figures available.

Making it more difficult to plead down a speeding charge means the state would collect an additional $58 million a year, Cuomo's office estimates.

Following Duffy's simple, yet prudent advice, however, would negate that.

But the roads aren't the only placed paved with revenue opportunities for New York State as outlined in the Governor's budget.

Business groups have largely praised Cuomo's budget - which was first unveiled Tuesday - as a sound fiscal plan. But they have raised concerns over a handful of fees and fines that would either be extended or expanded.
"We support somewhere between 90 and 95 percent of this package," Kenneth Pokalsky, vice president of government affairs for The Business Council, said Wednesday. "There are some cost issues in there that are concerning."
One of the largest revenue raisers included in Cuomo's budget plan involves an assessment fee on the state's electric utilities, such as Consolidated Edison and New York State Electric & Gas.
In 2009, then-Gov. David Paterson and the Legislature temporarily increased the fee to help plug a budget gap. It had been set to expire in 2014; Cuomo has proposed extending the added fee for another five years.
The utility fee, according to Cuomo's budget plan, generates about $500 million annually for the state, "the loss of which could force harmful reductions in economic development and human services programs."
"We're concerned if that cost is maintained, it's going to continue to trickle down and have an impact" on ratepayers, said Michael Durant, state director of the National Federation of Independent Business. "The governor's focused on reducing energy costs and we support that, but we're concerned about that (fee extension)."
Cuomo's plan also extends a limitation on higher-income earners that allows them to only deduct 25 percent of their charitable donations from their income taxes. The limitation had been set to expire, but Cuomo wants to continue it for three years.
"The current limitation of 25 percent ... has had no noticeable impact on charitable giving," according to the governor's budget summary.
A spokesman for Cuomo said the governor made good on his no-new-taxes pledge.
"The governor's proposed budget keeps spending in check and includes no new taxes or fees," said Rich Azzopardi, the spokesman. "The bottom line is that no one would pay more."
The extended revenue streams would go to pay for a number of initiatives Cuomo promoted in both his budget address Tuesday and his State of the State on Jan. 9.
Among them is a plan to create 10 tax-free "hot spots" across the state, where burgeoning businesses would be able to avoid paying state sales and business taxes if they locate there. Cuomo has also proposed extending a $420 million-a-year tax credit for film productions until 2020, as well as creating tax-free stores that sell only New York food products and tax credits for installing electric-vehicle charging stations.
State Sen. George Latimer, D-Rye, Westchester County, said Cuomo's budget is "consistent with the needs of the economy." Cuomo and the Legislature face a March 31 deadline to have a budget in place for the 2013-14 fiscal year, which begins April 1.
"We have demonstrated to the taxpayers that we understand their needs and are doing what we need to in order to take the next steps toward a full economic recovery," Latimer said in a statement Tuesday.
E.J. McMahon, senior fellow for The Empire Center for New York State Policy, a fiscally conservative think tank, said Cuomo's budget "combines continuing spending and fiscal restraint in some areas with - notwithstanding the claim - tax increases and gimmicks."
"We've seen a lot worse in Albany over the past 25 or 30 years," McMahon said. "I'm sorry we didn't see better in certain key respects."
The Cuomo administration "has been very positive for economic growth," said Pokalsky, of The Business Council. The debate over whether the "revenue extenders" should be considered new taxes, he said, is "semantic."
"I think if the tax law tells me tomorrow my tax will be a dollar and you do something to make it two dollars, call it what you want - it's an increased cost," Pokalsky said.

Click on the video player to watch our story from 2 On Your Side Reporter Dave McKinley and Photojournalist Norm Fisher from Eden.
Follow Dave on Twitter: @DaveMcKinley2

This story includes reporting from Gannett Albany Bureau reporter Jon Campbell.


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