The 2013 State Legislative Session proved again that New York State has turned the corner toward building a brighter future. Working together with Governor Cuomo, we passed legislation that will boost our economy, create jobs and cut taxes. We also fought for equal rights, successfully restored funding to protect our most vulnerable citizens and raised the minimum wage.
This year marked the state's third consecutive on-time budget. The fiscal plan makes a commitment to putting more money in the pockets of working families by extending a middle-class personal income tax reduction for three more years, locking in the lowest rate in 60 years. We also reduced energy taxes that will save customers $500 million by fiscal year 2017-18. In addition, working families will benefit from the creation of a $350 tax credit per child for families with incomes between $40,000 and $300,000, which will provide much-needed relief as parents and guardians struggle to meet the ever-rising costs of raising children.
Our communities are only as strong as our schools - that's why I fought for the funding our schools need to provide a quality education. This year's budget invests in our children's future by giving our schools nearly a billion dollars in education funding. The budget also includes $25 million for full-day and half-day pre-Kindergarten grants to allow for more full-day pre-K programs across the state and additional half-day pre-K slots. We also made a commitment to higher education by increasing support to $2422 per-Full Time Equivalent (FTE) student at SUNY community colleges. The base aid increase is $150 per-FTE student, which is the second consecutive increase in community college base aid.
The 2013-14 State Budget increases the state's minimum wage to $9 per hour by 2016. Raising the minimum wage was the right thing to do for workers and it will put more money into the pockets of those most likely to spend it locally -- jumpstarting consumer spending and helping to spur the economy. Additionally, in order to help struggling families in tough times, the weekly unemployment benefit will gradually increase from $405 per week to 50 percent of the state's average weekly wage.
In another major accomplishment, I fought, and succeeded, to restore up to $90 million to the Office for People With Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD) in order to help non-profits who work with some of New York's most vulnerable people. OPWDD-funded organizations provide life-changing services for those with developmental disabilities, helping them get the care and compassion they need to live a quality life. Restoring the funding for these OPWDD services is vital.
We know that providing financial relief to hardworking families is essential, but that alone is not enough to get New York moving in the right direction. That's why I focused aggressively on investing in programs to get our economy back on track:
• START-UP NY, which will create tax-free zones for eligible businesses near SUNY and CUNY campuses -- as well as private colleges and universities -- to foster job creation. Eligible businesses will have all state taxes waived for 10 years and their employees will not pay income taxes for five years or up to 10 years depending on income level;
• New York State Innovation Venture Capital Fund and the New York State Business Incubator and Innovation Hot Spot Support Act, which will create high-tech jobs by assisting the start-up and growth of newly established businesses and technology companies; and
• Financial relief for local governments through the establishment of a permanent Financial Restructuring Board to help municipalities restructure their finances and achieve other savings and efficiencies. We also improved the binding arbitration process to provide public services in a more cost-effective manner.
New York will also have a more tax-friendly environment for our businesses. We created a tax credit for businesses that hire veterans -- helping those who have heroically served our country find good employment when they complete their military service -- and reduced the tax on manufacturing companies. The Workers' Compensation program and Unemployment Insurance system have also been reformed, immediately saving businesses $446.5 million annually.
However, this year's legislative session was not just about improving the economy. The Assembly passed the Governor's omnibus 10-point Women's Equality Act (A.8070) in its entirety, to ensure equal rights for New Yorkers. The act contains 10 sweeping points to bring fairness to the women of New York, some of which include strengthening women's health and reproductive rights, equal pay, combating sexual harassment, stronger penalties for human trafficking and increased protections for victims of domestic violence.
For many years, the goals set forth within this act have been top priorities for the Assembly; in fact, we have passed legislation mirroring aspects of the Women's Equality Act year in and out – despite opposition from misguided opponents. Equal rights for women remains one of my top priorities.
These are just some of the accomplishments of the 2013 legislative session, but there are many other achievements that must be noted. We passed the most comprehensive gun safety law in the country in order to save lives, increased penalties for repeat child abusers, and assisted New Yorkers as they rebuild from the devastating effects of Superstorm Sandy.
Our work for the people of New York continues on and I remain committed to getting things done for the East End's hardworking families. Please feel free to contact me with any questions or concerns you may have at 631-537-2583 or via email at email@example.com.
Assemblyman Fred Thiele represents the 1st District in the New York State Assembly, which encompasses the towns of East Hampton, Southampton and Shelter Island. He has been our representative since 1995.