Deal on state budget still elusive
ALBANY -- Campaign-finance and ethics proposals are among the final stumbling blocks as Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and legislators Thursday moved toward an agreement on a state budget deal, though some details have begun to emerge.
Lawmakers were all but set to boost education spending by $1.1 billion, or 5 percent, for the 2014-15 fiscal year -- about $300 million more than Cuomo proposed in January, legislators said. Of the total, $340 million will be allocated statewide to expand prekindergarten programs, with all but $40 million earmarked for New York City, legislators said.
Legislators also said the budget will include Cuomo's proposal to put before voters this fall a $2 billion education bond act. If approved, the money would be spent on school facilities.
As Newsday reported this week, lawmakers will include in the budget a proposal to delay the use of Common Core standardized tests for student evaluations for two years -- but not for teacher evaluations.
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) said more elements of Common Core "will be revisited" in the second half of the legislative session.
Legislators also were ready to back a Cuomo idea to cut some bank taxes and a Republican idea to phase out an energy tax known as 18-A. The tax, a 2 percent assessment on gas and electric bills for residential customers, was a temporary surcharge that was supposed to end a year ago, but Cuomo had fought to extend it.
The state budget is due Tuesday and time is growing short for lawmakers to beat the deadline for the fourth straight year. Cuomo and legislators routinely have touted timely budgets as a prime example of state government functioning better than in the past. To succeed again, they would have to agree to a deal Friday to begin printing bills that, after a mandatory three-day waiting period, could be adopted Monday -- just hours before the deadline.
As negotiations ramped up, some ideas fell by the wayside, including one to trade an education-tax credit for some form of the Dream Act -- which would give immigrants in the country without legal permission access to the state's college tuition grant program.
A proposal to allow charter schools to receive state funds for building has been dropped.
And officials said lawmakers wouldn't include an expanded medical marijuana program in the budget, but would wait to debate that in the second half of the 2014 legislative session.
Silver said New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio will be able to continue to deny space to public charter schools in traditional city school buildings. De Blasio had been criticized by Cuomo for rejecting agreements for three charter schools to locate in city schools.
"The mayor will have to provide alternatives, but it doesn't have to be in the buildings they want," Silver said.
Proposals on easing property taxes were near agreement, but not settled, legislators said.
On campaign finance, Democrats floated the idea of asking state voters to decide whether to approve using taxpayers' money on political campaigns and a limited public-finance system that would focus on a select race, such as state comptroller.
But Republicans don't want public campaign financing and good-government groups say a limited public-finance system is an unacceptable half-measure.
"So-called 'compromises' like the comptroller-only proposal are just excuses to satisfy the status quo and keep corruption as firmly entrenched tomorrow as it is today," added Karen Scharff, with Citizen Action, a liberal group, and the Working Families Party.
Lawmakers also discussed ethics proposals backed by the governor, including tougher penalties for bribery and closing loopholes allowing companies to ignore state contribution limits.