Casinos Not Part of Legislative Budget Plans

11:44 PM, Mar 11, 2013   |    comments
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ALBANY, N.Y. -- State lawmakers said Monday they hope to have the framework of a budget deal in place by the end of the week, although there still is no agreement on much-debated proposals to increase the minimum wage and where to allow Las Vegas-style casinos.

The two houses of the Legislature passed separate budget proposals on Monday, with the Senate coalition of Republicans and breakaway Democrats signaling they would be open to a phased-in minimum wage hike beginning this year.

But after meeting with Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday, the co-leaders of the Senate -- Senate GOP Leader Dean Skelos and Independent Democratic Leader Jeff Klein -- spun the wage proposal in different ways. Specifically, the resolution calls on the Senate to "consider phasing in any minimum wage increase over three years beginning in 2013," without specifying the amount of the increase.

Klein, who supports a wage increase, said the "language is very clear."

"We have in our one-house budget resolution an increase in the minimum wage," Klein told reporters. "The increase would start this year and then subsequent increases would be done over the next two years."

Skelos, of Nassau County, said it's simply a consideration. Republicans have been wary of a minimum-wage hike's impact on small businesses and youth employment.

"I said we would consider it," Skelos said. "Some have written that I support it, but I said in all of the resolutions that I would consider it along with other business tax credits and incentives."

The state's current minimum wage is $7.25 an hour, and the Democrat-controlled Assembly has already passed a bill that would increase the rate to $9 and tie future increases to inflation.

In Cuomo's $136 billion budget plan, the wage would be increased to $8.75 beginning in July. Cuomo said it's unclear whether the minimum-wage issue would be dealt with in the budget or before the session ends in late June.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who first called for an increase more than a year ago, was unimpressed with the Senate proposal.

"There's no substance to it. They don't tell you what it is," Silver said. "They don't tell you whether there's indexing or not. So we really have no clue as to what they did."

Meanwhile, Cuomo and the Legislature are hoping to have a budget deal locked down by March 18, which would clear the way for a vote on March 21. The state's new fiscal year begins April 1, but lawmakers are hoping to pass a budget by the end of next week because of the Passover and Easter holidays at the end of the month. They are set for a spring recess at the end of the next week.

Cuomo and legislative leaders were not optimistic that an agreement on where and how to site Las Vegas-style casinos would be reached in time for a budget deal. The Legislature passed a constitutional amendment last year that would allow up to seven casinos statewide, but it must be passed again this year and approved by voters before it takes effect.

Cuomo's budget calls for allowing the state Gaming Commission to select the location of three potential upstate casinos, while lawmakers have been pushing for more legislative control.

Among the issues, Cuomo said, is deciding how long the state would be able to guarantee that a casino would not be located downstate.

The idea is to bring downstate residents to the upstate casinos, but casino developers are more eager to locate in New York City and its suburbs.

"The question is how long a period of exclusivity does the upstate franchises have?" Cuomo said. "And there's a big difference between zero and five (years), or six or seven or three, and that's one of the complexities ... that we're trying to work through."


By Jon Campbell | Gannett Albany Bureau

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