NYS Exposed: Taxes, fees and surcharges in the state budget

January 30, 2017 11:30 PM

ROCHESTER -- Governor Andrew Cuomo has been touring New York State talking about his budget proposals which include plans for free SUNY tuition to many New Yorkers, upstate ridesharing and lower property taxes but the budget also includes millions of dollars in taxes and fees that are buried deep in the thousands of pages of numbers.

Diane St. John and her husband walked out of the DMV in Greece on Monday frustrated. "I think people tend to look at it like, well, we only do it once every three to four years. So it's no big deal, except it'll be a big deal,” Diane says, referring to the amount of money she had to spend to get a license and her car registered.

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If the governor gets his way, she might be even more annoyed. In his 2017 budget, he calls for an increase in a number of DMV fees, particularly the price of a title which will go from $50 to $75 for an original, $20 to $40 for a copy.

That’s not the only area where taxpayers will notice increases. "It is difficult to go through all at once but when you look into it, there are hundreds of millions of dollars in whatever you want to call them -- extensions, fees, surcharges -- that hit on everything from property titles to driver's licenses to cell phone plans,” says Greg Biryla, the Executive Director of Unshackle Upstate.

There will be a bigger effort to collect taxes on all internet sales, a 5.5 percent surcharge will be tacked on to all Uber and Lyft rides if ridesharing is approved, students will pay a $250 per year tuition increase at SUNY schools, a new tax is being added to vapor and e-cigarette purchases and there will be an increased tax on cigars -- just to name a few of the changes in the budget.

All of that, despite the fact Governor Cuomo said this while in Rochester just last week: "We are all inherently cheap; I'm cheap. Right? We shop, we clip coupons, we look for bargains. Be that way with taxpayer money and that's the mentality we have in Albany now.”

Compared to some years, that’s true, but to say the 2017 budget has no new taxes or fees is not accurate.

Most of the money the governor is hoping to generate for his spending will come from those taxpayers who are making more than $1 million a year. He wants to renew the “Millionaires Tax” which was set to expire at the end of the budget year, lowering the tax rate for high-earners by 2 percent.

"In this economy, we can't be cutting taxes for millionaires and still do what we need to do,” the governor said at a recent press conference.

If he doesn’t renew the tax, he claims we’ll all suffer. "It would decimate the budget, it would cause us to cut everything across the board from education to transportation, forget the middle class tax cut, because you couldn't afford any of it,” he says.

Biryla says that’s the wrong mentality. “New York does not have a revenue problem, it's a 150 billion dollar budget, we have plenty of revenue streams, we have a spending problem,” he says.

Spending that could grow if the governor gets some of his flagship programs, like free SUNY tuition, approved by the legislature.

"When you become addicted to these revenue streams, the tax and spend notion in state government becomes perpetual,” Biryla adds.

Then, of course, the concern is it’ll fall back on all taxpayers not just the wealthy. "Whenever anything goes up, we take a hit on something else,” St. John says.


Jennifer Lewke

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