In private 'horse trading,' Albany close to spending $142B in public money

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Spin Cycle

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ALBANY -- Legislative leaders emerged Tuesday from their latest closed-door negotiations with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo proclaiming great progress on the state budget due Monday, but providing no details.

“I think we have tremendous progress, we are moving along, we are breaking down the major issues,” said Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan).

Senate co-leaders Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) and Jeff Klein (D-Bronx) agreed.

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But none of the leaders would say publicly why they are optimistic they are making progress on how to spend $142 billion in public money.

Traditionally in Albany, leaders talk the least about details of private talks when they are close to agreement. That avoids providing time for lobbyists to mobilize against elements of the budget before the state budget is voted into law. It also cuts down the time the public has available to see the budget before it is final.

“This is typical Albany,” said Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group. “The deals are being hammered out behind closed doors and the public is getting very little information.”

In Albany, although leaders sometimes deny it, agreements on issues usually hinge on agreement on other, unrelated issues.

"With so much budget horse trading, Albany becomes Dodge City at the end of March," Horner said.

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The linchpin issues this year on which dozens of other spending deals hinge are how to provide property tax relief and how much to fund prekindergarten expansion statewide.

Cuomo’s budget proposal in January called for a two-year property tax freeze. The state would subsidize the local property tax increase up to a 2 percent increase by issuing tax credits to taxpayers. But local governments and school districts would have to agree to consolidate, share services or make other specific spending cuts equal to 1 percent a year for three years. Cuomo said the cost-cutting commitments are necessary to reduce property tax growth over the long term and has refused to omit his requirements.

The Senate proposal would provide more savings, but would require fewer commitments by local governments and schools before taxpayers would get relief.

The Assembly proposal would tie property taxes to a “circuit breaker” approach that would factor in household income to help more low- and middle-income families.

The issue over expansion of prekindergarten is mostly about money. The Assembly and Senate seek to provide more funding to assure prekindergarten can expand in New York City -- which is a major issue for Mayor Bill de Blasio -- and statewide.

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The issue of prekindergarten expansion forced by de Blasio this year must fit within a 2 percent spending cap for the state budget imposed by Cuomo and the legislature.

“We’re not apart, per se,” Silver said. “Everything has to fit within everything else. That’s the key.”

“We’re moving in the right direction,” Klein said. “I think we’re all looking forward to having a fully funded, universal pre-K program in the state of New York.”

“Everything is being discussed,” Skelos said.

“Nothing is settled until everything is settled,” Silver said.

The leaders said they hope to avoid “messages of necessity,” which a governor can issue to suspend the constitution’s requirement of three days’ notice before voting on a bill. That would require a final budget agreement sometime Friday, so bills could be printed and “aged” three days as required for a vote by Monday, the last day of the fiscal year. The deadline is midnight Monday.

The leaders have promised to pass their fourth on-time budget in a row, which has become a major point in their re-election campaigns.

 

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