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State budget has Cross Bay toll rebate

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (c.) has a laugh with state Assembly Majority Leader Sheldon Silver (l.-r.) and state Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos after signing a budget bill in Albany.
TimesLedger Newspapers

Negotiations over the state budget seemed as mild as this year’s winter with Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state Legislature approving a $132.6 billion, on-time package that addressed a major issue in Queens.

“This is an honest, straightforward budget that puts New York state back on track by closing a multibillion-dollar deficit with no new taxes, fees or gimmicks,” Cuomo said in a March 30 statement after the budget was signed two days before the deadline.

Queens leaders praised several aspects of the state budget, including a rebate program designed to reimburse residents of the Rockaways who currently must pay tolls on the Cross Bay Bridge.

The bridge is the only span completely within a borough that charges a toll which, according to state Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder (D-Ozone Park) and civic leaders in the Rockaways, was stifling business growth and gouging residents who commute to work outside the neighborhood.

“The return of this important rebate program is a step in the right direction towards the complete elimination of this inherently unfair tax,” Goldfeder said.

The budget itself was heralded by Cuomo as proof that Albany was making a turnaround from its widely perceived dysfunction.

“Fifteen months ago we said to the people of New York state that we were going to bring competence, integrity and fiscal discipline back to Albany and make government perform,” Cuomo said in a statement.

The budget will also help fund Metropolitan Transportation Authority capital improvements in the city, which includes the East Side Access project.

East Side Access entails a tunnel running from the Sunnyside Yards in Sunnyside to Grand Central Terminal, which will serve as the terminus for some Long Island Rail Road trains, giving passengers access to the network of subways stemming from that station. Currently, all LIRR trains run into Penn Station.

Borough lawmakers also applauded funds allocated for the Elderly Pharmaceutical Insurance Coverage program, which subsidizes medication for Queens senior citizens.

“The budget provides $30.6 million to support the restoration of co-payment assistance that was eliminated on Jan. 1, 2012,” said Assemblyman Edward Braunstein (D-Bayside). “This allows EPIC enrollees to pay no more than $20 as a co-pay when filling a prescription.”

Queens residents of any age will also save money after the budget eliminated the sales tax for any clothing purchases under $110.

State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) said the budget process was largely smooth, but he would have also liked to see money allocated from the DREAM Act and to investigate the effects hydrofracking could have upstate.

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at januta@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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