New York State Budget Talks Begin This Week

7:13 PM, Mar 15, 2011   |    comments
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By CARA MATTHEWS
Gannett Albany Bureau

ALBANY -- While there is common ground in the budget resolutions the Senate and Assembly passed Tuesday, they differ on key issues like education funding and whether to continue an income-tax surcharge on wealthy New Yorkers.

With the resolutions in hand, negotiations now begin in earnest between the two houses and between the Legislature and Gov. Andrew Cuomo. All sides have expressed optimism that 2011-12 budget will be adopted by the April 1 start of the new year, unlike the current one, which was more than four months late.

"I think the tone that the governor has set for the resolution of this year's budget fiscal crisis is totally appropriate and all of us, I believe the (Assembly) speaker, certainly the governor and our conference, believe that we can have an on-time budget," Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, R-Nassau County, said during a news conference Tuesday.

Skelos said the Senate Republicans' budget "mirrors the priorities laid out in the governor's executive budget."

The Senate budget is $132.5 billion, slightly less than Cuomo's $132.9 billion plan. The Assembly's is $133 billion.

"The governor will not raise taxes, will get spending under control and will finally get the people of this state of New York the responsible budget they deserve," spokesman Josh Vlasto said Tuesday.

The next step in the process is for joint Assembly/Senate subcommittees to hold public meetings to hammer out their part of the budget, such as human services and public protection, and report to the general conference committee. The conference-committee process hasn't been used in the past few years.
The general conference committee's first meeting was scheduled for Tuesday night.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, said he thinks the Democratic-led Assembly, the Senate and the governor are not far apart on a budget.

"I think the numbers are clearly close in terms of if you filter through it," Silver said. "We agree on a lot of items in education, Title XX (human services), obviously there are differences and that's the purpose of those conference committees," he said.
Skelos said Senate Republicans are pleased Cuomo is holding firm on his opposition to extending the income-tax surcharge.

The current tax on people who make $200,000 a year and more is scheduled to expire Dec. 31, and the Assembly wants to continue the surcharge on people who make $1 million and more.

Sen. Liz Krueger, D-Manhattan, said Senate Republicans have added $1 billion in spending to Cuomo's budget but don't include enough cuts or additional revenue to balance that out.

"The numbers simply do not add up and we cannot rely on a wink and a prayer that this will all work out," she said.

Republicans dispute Krueger's claim.

Silver said Senate Republicans' proposed budget would spend "money that doesn't exist, plain and simple."

"We provide the mechanism that we balance the budget this year and balance the budget next year," he said, referencing the millionaires tax.

Assembly Republicans criticized the Assembly resolution, particularly because of the millionaires tax.

Assemblyman Peter Lopez, R-Schoharie, Schoharie County, said the budget is a "continuation of a tax, fine and regulate mentality.

Assemblyman Robert Castelli, R-Goldens Bridge, Westchester County, said he is disappointed the resolution doesn't include any mandate relief.

The Senate wants to reduce the governor's proposed 7.3 percent cut in education aid - $1.5 billion - by $280 million. Most of the funds would help low-wealth rural school districts, which Republicans said would be disproportionately affected under Cuomo's budget.

The Assembly wants to restore $200 million in school aid.
The Senate proposal would scrap Cuomo's plans for $500 million in competitive grants available to school districts -- $250 million for those that significantly improve student performance and $250 million for districts that make long-term changes that save money and boost efficiency.

The Assembly resolution would increase the performance award grants to $350 million and reduce the efficiency grants to $150 million.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman John DeFrancisco, R-Syracuse, said Senate Republicans are rejecting some $296 million in education "cost shifts to local governments."

That includes $57 million for summer-school special-education programs and $98 million to continue direct appropriations for schools that serve students who are blind, deaf or physically disabled.

The Assembly plan would restore $90.8 million for the special schools and $86 million for summer-school special education.
Sens. Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-Yonkers, and Ruth Hassell-Thompson, D-Mount Vernon, Westchester County, said they don't think the way the education restorations were made was fair. It "shows a selfish lack of consideration for all of the Big 5" city school districts, Thompson said. They include Buffalo, Rochester, Yonkers, Syracuse and New York City.

In Medicaid, the Senate GOP is backing 95 percent of what the governor's Medicaid Redesign Team proposed to save $2.3 billion in the health-care program for the poor. That includes across-the-board cuts of 2 percent and elimination of automatic rate increases for providers. One key difference is Republicans would allow counties to eliminate optional Medicaid services.

The governor, Senate and Assembly are not seeking to increase tuition for in-state State University of New York students. But the Senate wants to raise it 5 percent for out-of-state students.

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