Lawmakers pass $132.6-billion state budget

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks during a New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks during a news conference at the Capitol in Albany, N.Y. The legislative leaders met as budget bills were being passed in both houses giving New York its second straight budget on time. Also pictured from left are Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy and Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, R-Rockville Centre. (March 30, 2012) Photo Credit: AP

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ALBANY -- New York lawmakers on Friday approved a $132.6 billion state budget and did so on time for the second straight year.

With the major issues worked out long in advance, legislators passed the budget, which held state spending growth at 2 percent, one day ahead of the April 1 deadline.

At a midday news conference, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, flanked by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) and Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre), applauded lawmakers for turning New York's government from "a model of dysfunction" into a "model of function."

"For many, many years this government truly disappointed the people of this state," Cuomo said. "It has been a dramatic and almost unbelievable turnaround in just 15 months."

Silver thanked the governor and Republicans for "working with us in a spirit of compromise that truly reflects the needs of the people of the state of New York . . . It is a breath of fresh air for all of us."

Speaking on the Senate floor, Skelos said, "We should be proud" of the early budget, which did not raise taxes.

Taxes were increased, however, in a December agreement that created a new tax bracket on the highest earners. That agreement resolved a big part of the revenue side of the equation, which otherwise could have bogged down negotiations.

The two biggest spending pieces of the budget, Medicaid and school aid, also were agreed to last year.

"We took the two-year budgeting approach," said Assemb. Dean Murray (R-East Patchogue). "We laid the groundwork last year for this year, so most of the major elements of the budget were already decided."

Schools will receive about $20.4 billion, an $805 million increase over last year. Before the budget deal, Cuomo got teacher unions and school districts to agree to teacher evaluation systems under threat of losing increased aid.

The budget includes a gradual takeover of the growth in the local share of Medicaid spending -- a growing burden on local governments -- though that won't begin until next year.

Community colleges got a $31.3 million boost, an increase of $150 per student.

Cuomo has touted two initiatives as essential to creating jobs.

A new board controlled by the governor called the New York Works task force will coordinate infrastructure investment, using a $15 billion mix of borrowing, federal funds, state funds and private equity.

The budget also renewed funding for Regional Economic Development Councils for a second year to hand out grants for projects in a competitive process. The program will use $150 million in new capital funding and more than $500 million of existing funds.

The state will have a new gambling commission that merges the lottery division and racing and wagering board. The commission also would regulate casinos -- if they become legal in the state. Cuomo has pushed for Las Vegas-style gambling as an economic development initiative and the legislature approved a constitutional amendment to allow seven casinos in the state. The amendment will become law if approved again by lawmakers next year and by voters in a referendum.

The state plans to borrow $770 million to help fund the next three years of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's $13.1 billion capital plan. Lawmakers also raised the MTA's debt ceiling by $7 billion so it could borrow more money.

Earlier this month, lawmakers faced criticism over an all-night session that cut pensions for future state workers and enacted a controversial redistricting plan for legislators. In contrast, budget bills were passed this week in the light of day after the public was allowed to review them for three days.

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