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New York State passes US$163b budget, raises criminal responsibility age

[ALBANY] Travellers across New York state will get the chance to summon ride-sharing cars under a US$163 billion state budget passed on Sunday that includes a free public college tuition programme and ends imprisoning people younger than 18 with adults.

The passage completed a deal struck between lawmakers and governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, on Friday, nine days after the fiscal year began.

Key components - raising the age of criminal responsibility and free tuition for students from families earning less than US$120,000 a year - were pushed by Mr Cuomo and led to the longest budget delay since the Democrat took office in 2011.

To be phased in through October 2019, people under the age of 18 will no longer be housed in adult jails and prisons.

The measure, strongly embraced by Assembly Democrats, will leave North Carolina as the only state to automatically prosecute and imprison 16 and 17-year-olds as adults regardless of the crime.

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Mr Cuomo, considered a possible 2020 presidential contender, said in a radio interview that raising the age - along with increasing the state's minimum wage last year and legalising same-sex marriages in 2011 - are "really great lasting legacies".

Republican lawmakers complained Mr Cuomo incorporated social policy into the budget, but ultimately compromised.

"There's a lot of things you like, a lot things you don't like," Senate deputy majority leader John DeFrancisco, a Republican, said from the Senate floor.

State residents with household incomes under US$100,000 will be able to enroll in state public colleges tuition-free. The income limit rises to US$125,000 in three years.

The budget revives a tax cut programme for New York City affordable housing developers and funds US$2.5 billion of clean water infrastructure projects.

The spending plan won overwhelmingly support in the Assembly and Senate.

Legislators hailed the provision to permit Uber, Lyft and similar ride-hailing services to operate beyond New York City.

Senator Timothy Kennedy, a Buffalo Democrat, said upstate New York can now join the 21st Century.

The US$163 billion package also includes federal disaster aid for people impacted by 2012's Superstorm Sandy hurricane and funds for health care reform.

The pact gives Mr Cuomo's budget director authority to plan spending cuts if the federal government slashes more than US$850 million of funding to New York this fiscal year.

Mr Cuomo called New York "a target for hostile federal actions" under Republican President Donald Trump and the Republican-led Congress, which could cut billions of Medicaid dollars to New York and other states by replacing the Affordable Care Act.

To help offset the state's US$3.5 billion deficit and fund income tax cuts for people making under US$300,000, the budget extends for two years an 8.82 per cent tax rate on individuals making more than US$1 million a year.

Mr Cuomo failed in his quest to compel giant online marketplaces such as Amazon to collect taxes on third-party transactions.


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