- Associated Press - Thursday, February 19, 2015

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - New York state’s windfall from financial settlements should pay for affordable housing, transportation investments, upgrades to public schools and a tax rebate for low-paid workers, the state Senate’s top Democrat said Thursday.

The proposal from Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-Yonkers, is the latest suggested solution to a particularly good problem for any state government to have: how best to spend a $5 billion surplus?

“These surplus funds must be utilized to help low-wage workers, invest in affordable housing, rebuild our state’s infrastructure and prepare for the challenges of the future,” Stewart-Cousins said in a statement announcing the Senate Democratic plan.

The one-time rebate would go to workers currently making less than $10.10 per hour. The specific amount would vary based on the worker’s wage, with those making the least getting a maximum of $2,800. The rebate would cost $900 million.

The proposal is a way to immediately “bridge the gap” between the current minimum wage of $8.75 and higher levels proposed by Democrats, Stewart-Cousins said. Gov. Andrew Cuomo, also a Democrat, has suggested raising the wage to $10.50 statewide and $11.50 in New York City.

The Senate Democratic plan would devote another $1.2 billion of the surplus to the construction and repair of affordable housing units. Some $1 billion would fund public school upgrades and $1.1 billion would go to transportation projects including bridge repairs, mass transit and loans for the new $3.9 billion Tappan Zee Bridge.

Of the remaining funds, $50 million would go toward the purchase of body cameras for local and state law enforcement agencies and $150 million would be set aside to protect upstate farmland.

Cuomo has offered his own suggestions for how to spend the money, including $1.5 billion for upstate economic development and $500 million for broadband Internet access. He also wants to invest $1.3 billion of the money on the Thruway system to reduce toll increases on the Tappan Zee Bridge.

Cuomo says he wants to use the balance of the money on upgrades at New York City airports and other highway and mass transit projects around the state.

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