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ALBANY — New York's state budget process was off to a rocky start this week as the Senate's bipartisan majority stalled when it came to putting dollars to priorities that divide the coalition.
The Senate's Republicans and the Independent Democratic Conference, which shares majority control of the chamber, struggled to agree on a combined budget proposal. Sticking points include the proposed Dream Act, which would provide assistance — including government tuition aid — to immigrants brought to the United States illegally as children. Another divisive issue is a proposal to use state money to fund political campaigns with an aim of reducing the influence of big donors.
Assemb. Raymond Walter (R-Erie County) derided the latter proposal, which is included in the Assembly's budget plan, as "welfare for politicians."
Most Senate Republicans also have opposed the Dream Act as a misuse of scarce public funds for immigrants here illegally.
"It's not soup yet," said Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) as he emerged from an hourlong, closed-door Republican conference. More meetings were expected Wednesday night and a Senate budget proposal was expected late Wednesday or Thursday.
Latino legislators who sought the Dream Act were concerned as the issue became a political football within the majority coalition.
Assemb. Felix Ortiz (D-Brooklyn) said the Dream Act is "a sleeping giant" because of the growing immigrant vote and warned senators not to cut a deal to put the measure to a floor vote, only for it to fail.
"Just to put it out there would be hypocritical and a slap in the face to the people who are fighting so hard to make sure they can have a dream come through in their life," Ortiz said in an interview.
A lack of agreement on a single Senate budget response to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's $140 billion budget proposal doesn't necessarily threaten a fourth straight on-time budget, as Cuomo and lawmakers promised. The budget's not due until April 1 and legislative budget proposals aren't binding in the coming closed-door negotiations.
"These one-house bills or budget resolutions are really just a press release and a dog-and-pony show," said Sen. Diane Savino (D-Staten Island), a member of the Independent Democratic Conference. "People shouldn't get too excited."
The Assembly's Democratic majority released its budget resolution Wednesday, detailing its proposal to legalize marijuana for medical use, saying it would bring in almost $66 million in tax revenue.
The Assembly Democrats' proposal also would require patients to carry special identification cards to show they are certified to carry marijuana, which is illegal in New York.
The proposal would define a "serious medical condition" as a debilitating or life-threatening condition. That would include cancer, glaucoma, HIV or AIDS, Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, spinal cord damage, epilepsy, wasting syndrome, Crohn's disease, post-traumatic stress disorder, neuropathy, arthritis, lupus, and diabetes.
Cuomo plans for a more restrictive use of medical marijuana through his executive powers, which wouldn't require legislation. He would allow physicians to prescribe marijuana only through about 20 hospitals.
Senate Republicans have long blocked the measure, although Senate co-leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) said he would be open to the use of extract from marijuana for medical use.
With Yancey Roy